How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 11

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 11

The canvas disappeared, drawing up like great curtains for the waiting topmen to fist it in and gasket it to the yards. Yairley felt Destiny‘s motion change as she lost the driving force of the huge square sails and continued ahead under jib and spanker alone. She became heavier, less responsive under the weight of the pounding seas as she lost speed through the water.

“Stand clear of the starboard cable! Cock-bill the starboard anchor!”

The shank painter, which had secured the crown of the anchor to the ship’s side, was cast off, letting the anchor hang vertically from the starboard cathead, its broad flukes dragging the water and threatening to swing back against the hull as the broken waves surged against the ship.

“Let go the starboard anchor!”

A senior petty officer cast off the ring stopper, the line passed through the ring of the anchor to suspend it from the cathead, and threw himself instantly flat on the deck as the anchor plunged and the free end of the stopper came flying back across the bulwark with a fearsome crack. The cable flaked on deck went thundering through the hawsehole, seasoned wood smoking with friction heat despite the all-pervasive spray as the braided hemp ran violently out while Destiny continued ahead, “sailing out” her cable.

“Stream the starboard buoy!”

The anchor buoy — a sealed float attached to the starboard anchor by a hundred-and-fifty-foot line — was released. It plunged into the water, following the anchor. If the cable parted, the buoy would still mark the anchor’s location, and its line was heavy enough that the anchor could be recovered by it.

“Stand clear of the larboard cable! Cock-bill the anchor!”

Yairley watched men with buckets of seawater douse the smoking starboard cable. Another moment or two and —

Destiny staggered. The galleon lurched, the men at the wheel were hurled violently to the deck, and Yairley’s head came up as a dull, crunching shock ran through the deck underfoot. For a moment, she seemed to hang in place, then there was a second crunch and she staggered onward, across whatever she’d struck.

“Away carpenter’s party!” Lieutenant Lathyk shouted, and the carpenter and his mates bolted for the main hatchway, racing below to check for hull damage, but Yairley had other things on his mind. Whatever else had happened, it was obvious he’d just lost his rudder. He hoped it was only temporary, but in the meantime . . .

“Down jib! Haul out the spanker!

The jib disappeared, settling down to be gathered in by the hands on the bowsprit. Without the thrust of the rudder, Yairley couldn’t maintain the heading he’d originally intended. He’d planned to sail parallel to the shore while he dropped both anchors for the widest purchase possible on the treacherous bottom, but the drag of the cable still thundering out of her starboard hawsehole was already forcing Destiny‘s head up to the wind. The pounding seas continued to thrust her bodily sideways to larboard, though, and he wanted to get as far away from whatever they’d struck — probably one of those Shan-wei-damned uncharted rocks — as possible before he released the second anchor.

Fifty fathoms of cable had run out to the first anchor, and the ship was slowing, turning all the way back through the wind under the braking effect of the cable’s drag. She wasn’t going to carry much farther, he decided.

“Let go the larboard anchor!”

The second anchor plunged, and the pounding vibration of heavy hemp hawsers hammered through the ship’s fabric as both cables ran out.

“Stream the larboard buoy!”

The larboard anchor buoy went over the side, and then the starboard cable came up against the riding bitt and the cable stoppers — a series of lines “nipped” to the anchor cable and then made fast to purchases on deck — came taut, preventing any more it from veering. The ship twitched, but enough slack had veered that she didn’t stop moving immediately, and the larboard cable continued running out for several more seconds. Then it, too, came up against its bitt and stoppers and Destiny came fully head to the wind and began drifting slowly to leeward until the tautening cables’ counterbalanced tension could stop her. It looked as if she’d come-to at least two hundred yards from shore, and they could use the capstans to equalize the amount of cable veered to each anchor once they were sure both were holding. In the meantime . . . .

Yairley had already turned to the wheel. Fhranklyn Waigan was back on his feet, although one of his assistants was still on the deck with an unnaturally bent arm which was obviously broken. As Yairley looked, the petty officer turned the wheel easily with a single hand and grimaced.

“Nothin’, Sir.” He’d somehow retained a wad of chewleaf, and he spat a disgusted stream of brown juice into the spittoon fixed to the base of the binnacle. “Nothin’ at all.”

“I see.” Yairley nodded. He’d been afraid of that, and he wondered just how bad the damage actually was. If he’d simply lost the tiller or fractured the rudderhead, repair would be relatively straightforward . . . probably. That was the reason Destiny carried an entire spare tiller, after all. Even if the rudderhead had been entirely wrung off, leaving nothing to attach the tiller to, they could still rig chains to the rudder itself just above the waterline and steer with tackles. But he doubted they’d been that fortunate, and if the rudder was entirely gone . . . .

He turned as Lathyk arrived on the quarterdeck.

“Both anchors seem to be holding, Sir,” the first lieutenant said, touching his chest in salute. “For now, at least.”

“Thank you, Master Lathyk,” Yairley said sincerely, although he really wished the lieutenant had been able to leave off his last four words. “I suppose the next order of business is –”

“Beg your pardon, Sir.” Yairley turned his head the other way to face Maikel Symmyns, Destiny‘s boatswain.

“Yes, Bosun?”

“Fraid the entire rudder’s gone, Sir.” Symmyns grimaced. “Can’t be certain yet, but it looks to me as if the gudgeons’ve been stripped clean away, as well.”

“Better and better, Bosun,” Yairley sighed, and the weathered, salt-and-pepper haired Symmyns smiled grimly. The boatswain was the ship’s senior noncommissioned officer, and he’d first gone to sea as a ship’s boy when he was only six years old. There was very little he hadn’t seen in the ensuing fifty years.

“Beg pardon, Captain.” Yet another voice spoke, and Yairley found one of the ship’s carpenter’s mates at his elbow.


“Master Mahgail’s compliments, Sir, and we’re making water aft. Master Mahgail says as how it looks like we’ve started at least a couple of planks, but nothing the pumps can’t handle. Most likely stripped a lot of the copper, though, and the rudder post’s cracked clean through. And he asks if he can have a few more hands to help inspect the rest of the hull.”

“I see.” Yairley gazed at him for a moment, then nodded. “My compliments to Master Mahgail. Tell him I appreciate the report, and that I look forward to more complete information as it comes to him. Master Lathyk,” he looked at the first lieutenant, “see to it that Master Mahgail has all the hands he needs.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Very well, then.” Yairley drew a deep breath, clasped his hands behind him once more, and squared his shoulders. “Let’s be about it,” he said.

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42 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 11

  1. Peter says:

    This is bad. It begins to look as though they may make it through the storm, only to be caught helpless without a rudder when the Desnairian Navy arrives. Destiny won’t last long as a single floating fortress trying to fight off a fleet.

  2. Aenea says:

    Ok, I’m just wondering why they would refer to port as larboard. It’s dropped out of the English language now. Why would it be in use 1500 years from now with Safeholdian English? They didn’t inherit the languages that contribute to English, they inherited current English with a few added words from Japanese. Heck the original change from larboard to port came about because of the above described situation. Yelling aloud in a storm at the top of your lungs ‘starboard’ and ‘larboard’ are easily confused by the crew. Sorry, just breaks the suspension of disbelief.

    Other than that fun scene.

  3. Robert H. Woodman says:

    MWW must like the phrase “Let’s be about it.” Many of his characters who are in positions of command use it.

    Regarding the length of Weber’s books as has been discussed here, I find that in the book, all of the technical details and the infodumps add quite a bit of realism to the scene DW is trying to set; however, in the snippets, these details can be maddening.

  4. Robert H. Woodman says:

    From the snippet:
    The larboard anchor buoy went over the side, and then the starboard cable came up against the riding bitt and the cable stoppers — a series of lines “nipped” to the anchor cable and then made fast to purchases on deck — came taut, preventing any more it from veering.

    That’s an odd sentence construction. It isn’t exactly incorrect, but most English teachers I know (and my wife who graduated with a degree in English, though she doesn’t teach) would flag it for correction.

  5. jgnfld says:

    How about another 3 snippets and then:

    “Suddenly a giant tidal wave generated by the tectonic movements of Safehold 3000 miles away slowly, inexorably rose out of the sea against the shoaling water, reduced the ship and men to so much pulp against the land and rock, and left only bits of flotsam washing in the sand.”


  6. Nimitz13 says:

    Is the Desnarian or Silkiahn navy (or even Siddarmark) most likely to find them first? The Desnarian empire actually HAS a navy, but the Destiny is north of the entrance to Silkiah Bay, quite a ways from Desnarian waters and apparently in a fairly narrow and treacherous passage they can’t steer through without a rudder. The Desnarian fleet they’re here to watch for would likely take the more southern route heading for Tarot.

    But if it’s that dangerous (and we’ve just seen that it is) who in their right mind even sails there – unless it’s in a much smaller vessel that doesn’t stick 20+ feet underwater? Even a rudderless galleon can do severe damage to sloops, frigates, etc.

    Reinforcements are only days away, so if Merlin can pass a message along somehow before they’re found, this just ends up being a nice sailing lesson. But plot-wise, I’m guessing capture is inevitable.

  7. Richard Y. says:

    There are ways to rig a crude substitute for a rudder. A floating barrel with a line to either side. Pull the line on one side or the other and it creates drag on that side.

    I still think they are going to end up on shore.

  8. PeterZ says:

    Capture is too simple. Silkiahn and Siddermarkian trading houses have leased all those Charisian crewed ships swaning about the bay. I seriously doubt they are all unarmed. What happens if Destiny sails into Silk Town and those “Silkiahn” flagged ships offer assistance? They might “sell” them a spare rudder.

    If the Desnairians sail in with artmed ships, they are violating the sovereignty of Silkiah. Allow that once and Desnair will think it owned those waters. Recall the inferred touchiness of Silkiahn to being called Desnairian from Seijin’s Abraim’s dialogue with Mme Angelique in AMF. Siddermark may just want to test Silkiah sovereignty from the other side. Charis may decide not to offer any more ships for Silkiah to lease in addition to breaking all those lease agreements by activating whatever severence clauses that may exist.

    Lots of politics to be had with this particular mix of characters and setting. YUM! -rubs hands with glee-

  9. PeterZ says:

    I assume that Destiny makes it into Silk Town by sailing without a rudder when the weather calms some more.

  10. jgnfld says:

    If they are set free/hidden/allowed to sail on/whatever, this could, of course, provide the initial spark to the land alliance we know Charis will eventually need.

  11. John Driver says:

    @9 PeterZ – Destiny is not sailing anywhere without a rudder (or something that functions as a rudder). Without a rudder there’s no controlling the ship. Destiny has a spare rudder, there just isn’t have a good way to attach it to the ship. Something can be rigged up, but it will take time and won’t be as secure as the rudder they just lost. The rigged up rudder will allow them to sail in calm waters to some place where better repairs can be made. This assumes both that Destiny hasn’t already taken too much damage and that it doesn’t sustain anything worse before the storm passes and repairs are made. It also assumes that they don’t hit some shoal on the way out of these treacherous waters. Depending on how secure the rigged rudder is, Captain Yairley may decide he doesn’t have any choice except to sail to Silkiah.

  12. PeterZ says:

    John, it is possible to sail without a rudder. Not well, and its hard as all get out but possible. The trick is to use the ships balance and position in the water to increase drag on one side more than another. Similar to the barrel concept.

    All your other caveats are of course well taken.

  13. tootall says:

    “And now for something completely different”:

    Does MWW stand for Mad Wizard Weber? Thanks

  14. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Tootall, yes MWW means “Mad Wizard Weber”.

  15. robert says:

    Oh boy! Here I am, just back from a 3 week holiday in Norway & Sweden and I find this great coming home gift. Some may find this too technical etc., but it is actually very exciting and suspenseful. Were the book in my hands, I would be reading like crazy to find out what happens next.

  16. PeterZ says:

    Which proves my point that DW’s verbosity is driven by demand for details by the passionate wonks that are his fans. Welcome back, Robert.

  17. John Driver says:

    @12 PeterZ – Thanks for the info. Learn something new every day.

  18. John Driver says:

    PeterZ – My bad. It’s a spare TILLER that Destiny has, not a spare rudder. That’s not good.

  19. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Minor snerk, they could make a spare rudder but the damage done means that they couldn’t attach the new rudder.

  20. jgarland says:

    A long sweep can be used as a partial rudder.

  21. PeterZ says:

    So, anyone want to speculate where destiny ends up, now?

    I still think they limp into Silk Town and then all sorts of political heck breaks loose.

  22. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @21 – PeterZ

    Wherever they end up, it is their Destiny.


  23. PeterZ says:


  24. PeterZ says:

    @22 Robeert, I was preparing for some lyric verse and got a limric. sorry to over react, but that was a bit jarring.

  25. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @24 PeterZ

    In my family, plays on words are sport. We in the family view it as entertainment. Outsiders view it as punishment.

    Ooops. There I go again.


  26. PeterZ says:

    I shall endeavor to reciprocate, Dear Sir.

    So, reply to Robert Woodman with plays on words.
    Use musical referrences with Maggie.
    John Driver is a historical tech head.
    jgnfld is a stats geek like me.
    Unless robert has changed since AMF, he prefers to discuss literary referents.
    Of course, BE NICE TO THE DRAGON or no more snippets.

    I am sure I missed too many, but I will update my list as we go. Feel free to remind me should I miss something.

  27. John Driver says:

    @19, @20, Alternately they could fire their cannons and let recoil push Destiny in the desired direction. {Smile . . . not intended as a practical course of action} It’s looking more like they’ll either shipwreck or limp to port in Silk Town. Either way, maybe Ahbraim Zhevons will be on hand to help out.

  28. Aenea says:

    Looking at the damage done to the ship, easiest thing to do would be to jury rig a rudder to make sure the ship continues straight then use the jib and spanker to jibe the boat instead of a regular tack so as not to lose momentum. You would need a pole in the clew of the the sail to force the turn, but it would work. Only problems with this are that the ship needs momentum first and the only way to get that now is to sail downwind. Bad Idea since the wind is currently from the south and north leads straight into a reef. Their points of sail after this is only going to allow a broad reach at most.

    @27 That wouldn’t work. Would be awesome to see though. The turning point for the boat is under the main mast. You would only be able to fire the first few cannons on one side then the last few on the other. While the specific impulse from the cannons would be high a wave could just as easily push them back. A broadside during battle will push the boat, but it will be a parallel course not a new point of sail.

    PS I do sail.

  29. John Driver says:

    @28 Aenea – I don’t sail, but I do have a modest understanding of the laws of physics. You’re absolutely right about all the considerations you mentioned. I might also add that while the specific impulse of a firing cannon is large in relation to the mass of a round shot or a cannon, the mass of Destiny is huge. I don’t have any numbers to run under this analysis to see just how impractical it is, but I wouldn’t expect much. In that light, Destiny obviously doesn’t have anywhere near enough ammunition to accomplish much using this method, but like you said it would be fun to watch or more practically to imagine, since I don’t expect to be seeing any old style wooden galleons with real old fashioned working cannons in the remainder of my life.

  30. Alice Collins says:

    Re Robert H Woodman and “Let’s be about it.”

    Captain Jean-Luc Picard is sitting in his quarters, reading, when
    he hears a knock. Upon opening the door, he sees Geordi LaForge,
    who is carrying a small robotic device.

    “This is your new maintenance robot, Captain.” says Geordi. “It’s
    programmed to execute a variety of everyday chores.”

    “Why! That sounds exceedingly useful!” exclaimed Picard. “Why,
    only yesterday I was careless enough to rip the seam of my uniform
    when I bent over to retrieve my phaser. Am I to presume that this
    device might serve to reinstate the structural integrity about my

    “Indeed, Captain. Would you like me to activate the robot’s
    embroidery function?”

    “Yes, Mr. LaForge.” said Jean-Luc. “Make it sew.”

  31. ET1swaw says:

    They are so SOL right now. The gudgeons (think of them as the pivot bearings above and below the rudder) are gone, the rudder itself is gone, and the rudder post is cracked.

    Emergency steering

    tiller ============
    rudderpost I
    gudgeon +
    gudgeon +

    attempt above simplified steering arrangement

    Without gudgeons and rudder there is nothing to attach tiller to. With rudderpost cracked no torque/rotation could be applied even if by miracle a replacement rudder could be hung.

    BTDT (but with single and twin screw powerboats not sail Thank God) both losing steering ((twin screw)necessitating use of emergency tiller and engines to steer) and loss of my rudder ((single screw) used torque produced sideslip to steer (took over an hour to navigate about a hundred yards (narrow channel off of piers) feeling like I was rowing the boat with my throttle)).

    As @12 PeterZ says it is possible to manuever without a rudder even under sail but PITA doesn’t begin to cover it. Since MWW has gotten all nautical I wonder if he will detail the massive seamanship involved or just use handwavium to get them where they can beach and repair.

  32. kari says:

    ok – my turn: I guess they can ‘wave’ goodby to their ship. And unfortunately, the word destiny always makes me think of my ‘density’.

  33. PeterZ says:

    @31 ET1swaw, DW can’t have Sir Dunkyn navigate accross the entire pacific ocean without a land reference and be spot on, so he has to settle for bringing in his ship without a rudder. There has to be at least one Hornblower referrence in any DW story. Besides, what kind of larger than life reputation does Sir Dunkyn’s feat create for Charisian naval officers? Reputation to attract sailors for recruitment and to scare the heck out of thier opponents.

    We’re the ICN! Rudders?! For our Ships!? We don’t need no stinkin’ rudders! So, go back to your horses and lizards, Desnair. Leave the sea to real men!

  34. Doug Lampert says:

    You CAN handle a ship without a rudder. People did so for centuries, I believe the romans had thousand ton+ sailed cargo ships prior to having rudders.

    But there’s a reason that the complicated rudder system was pretty much universally adopted as soon as anyone got access to the tech. It’s MUCH better. And they’re in relatively narrow seas. And there’s no particular reason Captain Yardley’s expertise should include any training in long distance sailing without a rudder.

    They can move. The sails still work, you can use sails alone to handle the ship some, and anything that gives differencial drag (including a stearing oar if they rig one) can turn the ship some. Or they can drop a longboat and use it to pull a tow line to orient the ship (what fun, but this is really just another way to arrange differencial drag), in a real emergency you can raise one anchor, put it in the longboat, row the longboat out to near the length of the chain, drop the anchor, and then haul it in to move the ship the length of the anchor chain in several hours work (this was a historical technique used for short distances in emergencies for things like getting into port in contrary winds, it was not popular for obvious reasons). But they’re ALREADY in shallow water, with rocks, and no good maps. I’d guess Yardley is going to REALLY want to try to avoid anything that involves moving the ship with only limited control for any further than he needs to. He’ll almost certainly be looking for a place to beech the ship to make repairs.

  35. nightshark says:

    I know next to nothing about navy and sail (and english aren’t my first language) so this chapter is very boring with for me a lot of useless details… What the people with the knowledge think about it ?

  36. Aenea says:

    @ 34 Doug, it is the invention of the full high draft keel that is the new invention not the rudder. The rudder has been around since ancient Egypt. Beaching the ship after the storm would make sense, but only if a) the tide has a greater then 20 foot differential and b) doing so would not endanger the ship more due to other damage received. High tide difference would be needed just to look at and repair the damage and at this point the damage control crews are looking for other broken timbers that may crack under more stress, as beaching would entail.

    I have to say though this sounds more and more like the Destiny is going to founder soon and the rest of the story , I guess this would be a 3rd string plot, would be about Yardley’s heroic return by small boat or some such gallantry from the Age of Sail.

  37. PeterZ says:

    Heavens, NO! Aenea is suggesting The Pirates of Penzance. Catchy music and the hero gets the girl, but Lordy! So, we are down to operetic romantic comedies, whitty limericks, forelorn hopes and a plethora of nautical jargon. Woe is me!

    Hurry, Drak, next snippet please!

  38. Bret Hooper says:

    @34 Doug: And how wood they “beech”the ship?
    @37 Woe (nee Peter): Relief is in sight; less than 8 hours away!

  39. Doug Lampert says:

    @36, I can pick something like a dozen experts on rudders off the wikipedia page on rudders who’ll claim that Ancient Egyptian stearing oars were not rudders, you can pick up the same number who’ll claim they are.
    But if that sort of stearing oar is a rudder then Yardley can TRIVIALLY have a rudder and we’ve got no problem!

    @38, you beach a ship the same way Yardly did the last dozen or so times he had to bring a ship in to have significant maintenance done! Seriously, why would beaching be a problem, it’s SOP for ships of the period DW is modeling on. If @36 is correct and the structure can’t take that, then you abandon the hulk, because a ship not sound enough to risk beaching isn’t sound enough to risk sailing.

  40. John Driver says:

    @39 Doug – Beaching a ship is not a problem, Beeching a ship depends on the availability if Beech Trees.

  41. Aenea says:

    @39 At that point it’s semantics. @37 Hmm, by the end of this series I would love to read about Merlin singing “Modern Major General” Hmm or better yet Prince Nahrmahn finding that portion of OWLs archive then singing it just prior to a teleconference. With Caleb safely an ocean away so he can’t be smacked upside the head.

  42. Tim says:

    At this point, the comments make more exciting reading than the snippets ;-)

    Keep up the good work everyone

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