How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 12

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 12


HMS Destiny, 54,

Off Scrabble Shoal,

Grand Duchy of Silkiah


          “Pull, you lazy bastards!” Stywyrt Mahlyk, Sir Dunkyn Yairley’s personal coxswain, shouted as the thirty-foot longboat porpoised its way through the confused waves and spray like a seasick kraken. Hector Aplyn-Ahrmahk, crouching in the bow and hanging on for dear life while Destiny‘s starboard sheet anchor weighted down the longboat’s stern and accentuated the boat’s . . . lively movement, thought Mahlyk sounded appallingly cheerful under the circumstances.

          “Think this is a blow?!” the coxswain demanded of the laboring oarsmen in scoffing tones as the boat’s forward third went briefly airborne across a wave crest, then slammed back down again. “Why, you sorry Delferahkan excuses for sailor men! I’ve farted worse weather than this!”

          Despite their exertion and the spray soaking them to the skin, one or two of the oarsmen actually managed a laugh. Mahlyk was amazingly popular with Destiny‘s crew, despite his slavedriver mentality where Captain Yairley’s cutter was concerned. At the moment, he’d traded in the cutter for the larger and more seaworthy longboat, but he’d brought along the cutter’s crew, and there was no insult to which he could lay his tongue that didn’t make them smile. In point of fact, his crew took simple pride in his ability to out-swear any other member of the ship’s company when the mood took him.

          Which, alas, it did far more often than not, if the truth be known, especially when the captain wasn’t about.

          He and Aplyn-Ahrmahk were old friends, and the ensign remembered an incendiary raid on an Emeraldian port in which he and Mahlyk had torched a half-dozen warehouses and at least two taverns. They’d tossed incendiaries into three galleons, as well, as he recalled, but they hadn’t been the only ones firing the ships, so they couldn’t claim solo credit for them. Their current expedition was somewhat less entertaining than that one had been, but it was certainly no less exciting.

          The longboat swooped up another steep wave, leaving Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s stomach briefly behind, and the ensign turned to look back at the galleon. Destiny pitched and rolled to her bower anchors with all the elegance of a drunken pig, masts and yards spiraling crazily against the clouds. She looked truncated and incomplete with her upper masts struck, but she was still one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen. More importantly at the moment, Lieutenant Lathyk stood on the forecastle, a semaphore flag tucked under his arm, watching the boat from under a shading palm while Lieutenant Symkee used one of the new sextants the Royal College had recently introduced as a successor to the old back staff to measure the angle between the longboat and the buoys marking the positions of the bower anchors. As Aplyn-Ahrmahk watched, Lathyk took the flag from under his arm and raised it slowly over his head.

          “Ready, Mahlyk!” the ensign called.

          “Aye, Sir!” the coxswain acknowledged, and reached for the lanyard with his left hand while his right fist gripped the tiller bar. Another minute passed. Then another. Then —

          The flag in Lathyk’s hand waved.

          “Let go!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk shouted, and the longboat surged suddenly as Mahlyk jerked the lanyard which toggled the trigger and released the three-ton sheet anchor from the heavy davit rigged in the longboat’s stern. It plunged into the water, well up to windward of the more weatherly of the two anchors Destiny had already dropped, and the longboat seemed to shake itself in delight at having shed the irksome load.

          “Stream the buoy!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk ordered, and the anchor buoy was heaved over the side behind the sheet anchor.

          Although the longboat moved much more easily without the anchor’s hanging weight and the drag of the cable trailing astern, there were still a few tricky moments as Mahlyk brought it about. But the coxswain chose his moment carefully, using wind and wave action to help drive the boat around, and then they were pulling strongly back towards Destiny.

Aplyn-Ahrmahk sat on the bow thwart, looking aft past Mahlyk at the brightly painted anchor buoy, which got progressively smaller with distance, disappearing in the troughs of the waves, then bobbing back into sight. Boat work was always risky in blowing weather like this, but on a lee shore, with the entire rudder carried away and a bottom where anchors were known to drag, the notion of getting a third anchor laid out made plenty of sense to him. Of course, he did wonder how he’d ended up selected for the delightful task. Personally, he would cheerfully have declined the honor in favor of Tohmys Tymkyn, Destiny‘s fourth lieutenant. But Tymkyn was busy with the galleon’s pinnace, locating and buoying the spire of rock which had claimed the ship’s rudder. He was having at least as exciting a time of it as Aplyn-Ahrmahk, and the ensign wondered if the two of them had been chosen because they were so junior they’d be less badly missed if one or both of them didn’t make it home again.

          I’m sure I’m doing the Captain a disservice, he told himself firmly, wiping spray from his face, and then smiled as he wondered how Sir Dunkyn was going to react to his upcoming little show of initiative. I can always blame it on Stywyrt, he thought hopefully. Sir Dunkyn’s known him long enough to realize what a corrupting influence he can be on a young and innocent officer such as myself.

          “Pull! Langhorne — I thought you were seamen!” Mahlyk bawled, as if on cue. “I’ve seen dockside doxies with stronger backs! Aye, and legs, too!”

          Aplyn-Ahrmahk shook his head in resignation.

* * * * * * * * * *

          Sir Dunkyn Yairley watched with carefully concealed relief as the longboat was swayed back aboard. The pinnace followed, nesting inside the longboat on the gallows of spare spars above the main hatch. The cutters on the quarter and stern davits would have been much easier to get out and in again, especially with the deck so cluttered with the yards and sails which had been sent down from above to reduce topweight, and they probably would have sufficed. But they might not have, either, in these sea conditions, and he was disinclined to take chances with men’s lives, whether the rules of the game allowed him to show his concern or not.

          And they definitely wouldn’t have sufficed for what that young idiot pulled after dropping the sheet anchor! he thought sourly.

          He considered reprimanding Aplyn-Ahrmahk. The ensign and that scapegrace ne’er-do-well Mahlyk had taken it upon themselves to sweep the seabed north of Destiny with a grappling iron-weighted trailing line which should (in theory, at least) have snagged on any rocks rising high enough to be a threat to the galleon even at low tide. As a result, Yairley now knew he had over a mile of rock-free clear water for maneuvering room to the north of his current position.

They hadn’t happened to ask permission for that little escapade, and they’d almost capsized twice before they’d finished, and the captain was severely torn between a warm sense of pride in a youngster who’d become one of his special protégés and anger at both of them for risking their lives and their entire boat’s crew without authorization.

          Well, time enough to make my mind up about that later, he decided. And in the meantime, I’ll just concentrate on putting the fear of Shan-wei into the young jackanapes.

          He paused long enough to give Aplyn-Ahrmahk a steely-eyed glare as a down payment, then turned back to the task of creating a jury-rigged rudder.

          Maikel Symmyns had gotten a spare main topgallant yard laid across the quarterdeck so that its arms jutted out through the aftermost gunports on either side, supported with “lifts” to the mizzen mast and guys running forward to the main chains. Hanging blocks had been secured to either end of the spar, and the falls run forward from them through the fairleads under the wheel. Several turns had been taken around the barrel of the wheel, and then the free ends of the falls had been seized to the staple at the midpoint of the drum to anchor everything firmly.

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27 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 12

  1. KenJ says:


    Do I sense another Scotty Tremmain/Horras Harkness teaming here????

  2. Thank goodness, I could’ve almost imagine a whole book only taking place on this this ship as it spiraled toward its doom. Also, I don’t remember who made the comment about “and three snippets later and a tectonic plate shift caused a tidal wave to sink the ship making everything we just read pointless”.. but that was possibly the funniest remark I’ve ever read on here.

    Also, I think I wouldn’t have minded reading about this incendiary raid that Mahlyk and Apyln got into. (as a way of getting to know the characters better).

    As for a Dreadful Duo re-occurring, I don’t think I see that happening.. but maybe.

    Besides all that, what seems to be the point of recovering things like the spare? Are they just trying to get onto land safely at this point? Whats the state of storm? It seems like its over, and if so, then wouldn’t it be prudent for them to just make their merry way off again? They are maneuvering north, but north to what?

  3. jgnfld says:

    @2 The incendiary raid was likely the one we _did_ read about at the beginning of Book 2. Forget the name of the port but it was the port where Zhastro was constructing potential raiding cruisers/cutters. It was also the raid that crystallized Nahrman’s decision to voluntarily capitulate.

    Thanks for the compliment–I’m rarely accused of being funny. It’s just that it was “dragging anchor” along waaay too much, I thought. That is really frustrating. Seems like it will start picking up some now as they try to get going on jury-rig off an enemy-controlled shore.

  4. Terranovan says:

    That last paragraph was so full of naval jargon that it needs a translator or a dictionary to avoid having it skipped over entirely by lay/land bound readers.

  5. jgarland says:

    @4 Actually a lot of it–probably most–is in various places in Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. It just isn’t all in one place in one massive dump.

  6. The last paragraph was mostly clear. It’s certainly not as bad as reading Shakespeare or Beowulf and pretending they are written in English.

  7. Aenea says:

    I just find funny that MWW tells us what they’re doing the line before the last paragraph, then shows us how they’re doing it in the last paragraph. It will probably work like the front wheels of a car, rotation of the wheel will change the angle of the planking they’ll strap to the spar.

  8. PeterZ says:

    @5 Never read O’Brian’s series, loved Forrester’s Hornblower.
    @4 It appears that they are trying to jury a stearing oar variant. They have put a pole through the last rearmost pair of gun ports (holes for the guns to stick out). Attached to the ends of this pole they put blocks (pulley system). Through both the blocks they strung some rope and attached the rope to the stearing wheel of the ship. One suspects that turning the sheel one way will pull one stearing ora into the water and lift the other, turn the other way and the opposit happens. The side with the lowered oar will have more drag and the ship will turn in that direction.

    Just a wag.

  9. jgarland says:

    @8 Do. One of the most lovingly crafted series of historical fiction in the language. Puts Sharpe, Hornblower, et. al. to shame.

    No infodumps, just constantly expanding knowledge (theme: this was the Enlightenment after all). Savage, no holds barred combat. Secret agents in action. Life and turmoil ashore. The humor in the dialogue, in particular, consists far more of lines just dropped and left for the reader to see three lines later and come back to than lines thrown in their faces for an immediate possible single guffaw. Wonderful plots. Great scope. I cannot recommend them enough.

  10. jgarland says:

    added: The steering oar in Patrick O’Brian comes in during a storm and subsequent desperate series of actions to save the ship in the far southern oceans. Small spoiler: As a side effect, Maturin, one of the 2 central characters, is able to decimate several French intelligence networks. How’s that for scope!

  11. summertime says:

    Was it common, when necessary, for a small boat to carry out and deploy a three ton anchor? That’s six thousand pounds! Seems a bit weighty for a fully crewed small boat.

  12. jgarland says:

    @11 According to wiki entry at least, yes… The longboat was generally more seaworthy than the cutter, which had a fuller stern for such load-carrying work as laying out an anchor and cable. In a seaway or surf therefore, the cutter was more prone to broaching to.

    Now that I think about it, it looks like MWW read this very wiki entry before writing this snippet, actually :-) !!!

  13. Robert H. Woodman says:

    RE: Alice Collins (from Snippet 11, comment 30):

    Sorry I didn’t respond earlier, but I was dealing with a family emergency.

    That was a delightful groaner! Thank you!

  14. PeterZ says:

    @10-11 JG, I guess I will repeat for Leary and Mundy what I did for Harrington then but in reverse. ‘Cause it sure sounds like O’Brian’s series or something similar was behind the Leary Commanding series.

  15. PeterZ says:

    Sorry, that was @9-10 not @10-11.

  16. jgarland says:

    @14 Possibly. I’m not a total Drake fan, but he’s good and I haven’t read that series so I cannot give an opinion.

    But what I was addressing historical fiction series in the Hornblower vein, not SF.

  17. robert says:

    What differentiates O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series from C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower series is the literary quality and solid historical research with which Patrick O’Brian infused his works. I read Forrester for the action, but I read O’Brian for the words and the humor.

    Any resemblance to Leary-Mundy is superficial (oh, oh, here come the bullets). I don’t think Drake bases his characters on Aubrey-Maturin.

    I think that this is the best opening sequence of any of the Safehold books…at least form an action point of view.

  18. robert says:

    from, I mean from

  19. PeterZ says:

    @17 Well, Drak is known for his historical research. Any similarity may be based on common referrants. I recall Drake mentioning his inspiration for the characters in one of his forewards. Gotta go back and see.
    @16 JG, if you like historical fiction check this particular Drake series out. Pace and feel is much different from Harrington, grittier somehow. I am not a huge fan of Drake but wouldn’t miss any of the Leary-Mundy novels.

  20. TimC says:

    @17 I find for language and (un)realistic action Dudley Pope’s Ramage series is the best of the Napoleonic sea stories. He knew his navy and despite a rather sentimental attitude to the seamen still told a cracking story.

  21. Mike says:

    @17, Drake himself has said he directly based Leary-Mundy on Aubrey-Maturin.

  22. Mike says:

    From Drake’s website:

    A question that I get less often than ‘Who the hell is Cassian’? is, ‘Have you read Patrick O’Brian?’ Darn right I have: I’ve read Patrick O’Brian’s novels and I love them. Some reviews have referred to my Leary/Mundy series as an SF version of Hornblower. That’s not correct; I did an SF version of the Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O’Brian’s superb knockoff of Forester’s Hornblower. (If you want an SF version of Hornblower, Dave Weber and David Feintuch both do excellent but conceptually distinct takes on that paradigm.)

  23. Alice Collins says:

    @ 13 Alan B Combs is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and he takes his puns seriously. Check out his website at

  24. ET1swaw says:

    @20 TimC: Alexander Kent’s Bolitho series isn’t bad either. C. Northcote Parkinson’s and Dewey Lambdin’s series are more ‘people stories’ than the otherrs IMO.

  25. PeterZ says:

    I bet they have another extra mast through the main gun deck, too. So, there are 2 masts through the rear most gunports of the ship; one through the quarter deck gun ports and another through the lower main gun deck. The higher placed mast holds the connection to the stearing wheel and the bottom mast acts as the fulcrum to whatever they plan on using as the stearing oar/rudder.

  26. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @23 – Alice Collins

    What a fanastic site! Thanks!

  27. TimC says:

    @24 yes read Bolitho as well but I find I still come back to Pope’s Ramage- his description of the working of the telegraph round France in ‘Ramage’s Signal’ sounded very like the telegraph in ‘Heirs of Empire’ and made me wonder if the MWW had read that.

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