How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 13

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 13

          “Here ’tis, Sir,” Garam Mahgail said, and Yairley turned to face the ship’s carpenter. The carpenter was a warrant officer, not a commissioned officer, and he was probably close to half-again Yairley’s age and bald as an egg, but still brawny and callused. At the moment, his bushy eyebrows were raised as he exhibited his craftsmanship for the captain’s approval.

          “Is this what you had in mind, Sir?” he asked, and Yairley nodded.

          “That’s precisely what I had in mind, Master Mahgail!” he assured the warrant officer, and beckoned Symmyns over. The boatswain obeyed the gesture, and the captain pointed at Mahgail’s handiwork.

          “Well, Bo’sun?”

          “Aye, I think it’ll work right well, Sir,” Symmyns said with a slow smile of approval. “Mind you, it’s going to be Shan-wei’s own drag in a light air, Cap’n! Be like towing a couple of sea anchors astern, it will.”

          “Oh, not quite that bad, Bo’sun,” Yairley disagreed with a smile of his own. “More like one sea anchor and a half.”

          “Whatever you say, Sir.” Symmyns’ smile turned into a grin for a moment, and then he turned back to his working party and started barking additional orders.

          At Yairley’s instructions, Mahgail had fitted a pair of gundeck water tubs with bridles on their open ends, and inhauls had been made fast to the bottoms. Now the captain watched as one of the tubs was secured to either end of the spar by a line run to the inhaul. Then the bitter end from the hanging block was secured to the bridle. With the wheel in the “midships” position, the inhauls would tow the tubs through the water a good fifty feet behind the ship with their bottoms up, but when the wheel was turned to larboard, the bridle rope from the tub on that side to the barrel of the wheel would be shortened, pulling the tub around to tow open-end first. The resultant heavy drag on that side of the ship would force the galleon to turn to larboard until the wheel was reversed and the tub went gradually back to its bottom-up position, where it would exert far less drag. And as the wheel continued turning to starboard, the starboard tub would go from the bottom-up to the open-end-forward position, causing the ship to turn to starboard.

          There were drawbacks to the arrangement, of course. As Symmyns had pointed out, the drag penalty would be significant. Water was far denser than air, which explained how something as relatively tiny as a ship’s rudder could steer something a galleon’s size to begin with, and the resistance even with both tubs floating bottom-up would knock back Destiny‘s speed far more than a landsman might expect. And whereas a rudder could be used even when backing a ship, the tubs were all too likely to foul their control lines — or actually be drawn under the ship — in that sort of situation. But Symmyns’ initial diagnosis had been correct. The gudgeons, the hinge-like sockets into which the pintle pins of the rudder mounted, had been completely torn out, and the rudder post itself was badly damaged and leaking. They had a pattern from which to build a complete replacement rudder, but there was nothing left to attach a replacement to, and his improvised arrangement should work once he got the ship underway once more.

          Which isn’t going to happen, of course, until the wind veers, he reflected sourly.

          But at least he had three anchors out, so far they all seemed to be holding, and there was no sign anyone ashore had even noticed their presence. Under the circumstances, he was more than prepared to settle for that for the moment.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “Oh, Pasquale, take me now!” Trahvys Saylkyrk groaned.

He was the oldest of Destiny‘s midshipmen — in fact, he was two years older than Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk — and he didn’t usually have any particular problem with seasickness. The last couple of days had pushed even his stomach over the edge, however, and he looked down at the stew in his bowl with a distinctly queasy expression. The ship’s motion was actually more violent than it had been before she anchored, in some ways, as heavy, confused seas continued to roll in from the southeast. She lay with her head to the wind now, which meant she climbed each steep roller as it came in, then buried her nose and kicked her heels at the sky as it ran aft. And just to complete Saylkyrk’s misery, the galleon threw in her own special little corkscrew with every third or fourth plunge.

Please take me now!” he added as one of those corkscrews ran through the ship’s timbers and his stomach heaved, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk laughed.

          “I doubt he’d have you,” he said. As an ensign, he was neither fish nor wyvern in a lot of ways. Although he was senior to any of the ship’s midshipmen, he still wasn’t a commissioned officer, and wouldn’t be until his sixteenth birthday. As such, he continued to live in the midshipmen’s berth and served as the senior member of the midshipmen’ mess. Now he looked across the swaying mess table at Saylkyrk and grinned. “Archangels have standards, you know. He’d probably take one look at that pasty green complexion and pass.”

          “Fine for you to say,” Saylkyrk with a grimace. “There are times I don’t think you have a stomach, Hektor!”

          “Nonsense! You’re just jealous, Trahvys,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk shot back with a still broader grin. Some midshipmen might have resented being required to take the orders of someone so much younger than he was, but Saylkyrk and Aplyn-Ahrmahk had been friends for years. Now the ensign elevated his nose, turned his head to display his profile, and sniffed dramatically. “Not that I don’t find your petty envy easy enough to understand. It must be difficult living in the shadow of such superhuman beauty as my own.”

          “Beauty!” Saylkyrk snorted and dug a spoon glumly into the stew. “It’s not your ‘beauty’ I envy. Or that I would envy, if you had any! It’s the fact that I’ve never seen you puking into the bilges.”

          “You would’ve if you’d been in my first ship with me,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk told him with a shudder. “Of course, that was a galley — only about two-thirds Destiny‘s size.” He shook his head feelingly. “I was as sick as a . . . as a . . . as sick as Ahrlee over there,” he said, twitching his head at the still-miserable Zhones.

          “Oh, no, you weren’t,” Zhones replied feebly. “You couldn’t’ve been; you’re still alive.”

          The other midshipmen chuckled with the cheerful callousness of their youth, but one of them patted Zhones comfortingly on the back.

          “Don’t worry, Ahrlee. They say once your tonsils come up it gets easier.”

          “Bastard!” Zhones shot back with a somewhat strained grin.

          “Don’t pay any attention to him, Ahrlee!” Aplyn-Ahrmahk commanded. “Besides, it’s not your tonsils; it’s your toenails. After you bring your toenails up it gets easier.”

          Even Zhones laughed at that one, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk smiled as he pushed his own chocolate cup across the table to the younger midshipman.

Hot chocolate was even harder to come by aboard ship than it was ashore, and it was expensive. With his allowance from his adoptive father, Aplyn-Ahrmahk could have afforded to bring along his own private store and enjoy it with every meal. Fortunately, he also had enough common sense to do nothing of the sort. He’d been born to humble enough beginnings to realize how throwing his newfound wealth into his fellows’ faces would have been received, so instead he’d invested in a supply for the entire mess. By this point, they’d been away from port long enough it was running decidedly low, however, and the cook’s mate assigned as the midshipmen’ mess steward was rationing it out in miserly doses. But the Charisian naval tradition was that the ship’s company was kept well fed, with hot food whenever possible, especially after a day and a night like Destiny had just passed. Despite Saylkyrk’s obvious lack of enthusiasm for the stew in his bowl it was actually quite tasty (albeit a bit greasy), and their steward had made enough chocolate for everyone. For that matter, he’d even managed to come up with fresh bread. He’d expended the last of their flour in the process, but the result had been well worth it.

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23 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 13

  1. KenJ says:

    It is becoming rather obvious that this book will revolve in large part around Hektor… a “coming of age” for him.

    (I wonder if (or rather when and how) he will be let into the “inner circle.”)

  2. “Water was far denser than air, which explained how…”


    and “She lay with her head to the wind now,” – I thought he was still talking about Trahvys.

    “Hot chocolate was even harder to come by aboard ship than it was ashore..”

    I don’t know if I’m just loopy because its late, but I found that remark pretty funny.

  3. Mike says:

    Every book Weber writes, he always talks about how the “tradition” of his military forces (the good guys, anyway) is to serve hot meals, especially before battle.

    This is the kind of thing that expands these books to be about 250% times as wordy as they probably should be.

  4. Willem Meijer says:

    When a conscript we deeply apreciated the principle that an execise was a success only if the food came in hot.

    Any one noticed the bitter end of the rope? Nice how naval expressions get so deep into the language that no one notices them any more as naval.

  5. Aenea says:

    And wow that is an overly complicated way to turn a ship. That’s not McGuyver it’s more like Goldberg. Are these tubs metal? Because that is a lot of pressure. The bridle is the piece most likely to break and probably wasn’t made to take the pressure of a 400 ton ship moving at 10 to 15 knots. Yes, yes rule of plot I know. It will work until the plot requires it not to work. It’s just I was expecting something more like this after reading the description last chapter. Yes the second description on that page is more like the above in the snippet, but notice that all described drag object still allow water to flow through the material just at a greatly reduced speed. Also only one drag object is really needed not two with the added problem of keeping them separate.

  6. Jeff Ehlers says:

    @Aenea: That kind of solution works fine for a small sailing boat. However, I think it would be a lot harder to rig up for a full-size caravel. There might be other problems too (I’m not familiar enough with sailing ships to say more).

  7. PeterZ says:

    @5 I suspect one factor for building this system is the time it takes to improvise this jury-rig. They have to be up and running soon or they will be sitting ducks for Imperial Desnairian Navy. This system has issues but is likely to work and was created quickly. The rudder-loss site systems looks a bit more complicated to both build and run. Complicated to build means it takes more time to build. Complicated also means more things to go wrong.

    I do recall reports of a similar system being used in the past, so the mechanics have been real world tested. Its not optimal, but Destiny’s optimal system got whacked by a rock.

  8. Drak Bibliophile says:


    David Weber has posted over in his place concerning the replacement rudder.

    Variations on this method had been used in real world situations during the Age of Sail.

    It’s not (as you said) optimal, but based on Destiny’s situation it’s the best choice available (both in time and effort).

  9. Aenea says:

    I’m just thinking its complicated because the use of two drag lines runs the risk of the lines crossing. The sea state isn’t going to go down for days even if the storm lets up. I just think that a movable drogue would be more useful then dragging two on parallel lines. Heck a vertical plank weighted below the waterline with some barrels on top for flotation seems a bit better just to keep the issue of drag line pressure down.

    Sorry. Running this through my head trying to see where the problems with this rig truly come into play.

    400 ton ship = roughly 360,000 kilograms
    10 Knots in Good Wind = roughly 5 meters per sec

    Roughly 1.8 million Newtons of Force from the ship’s movement or a little over 400,000 pounds of pressure transmitted up that drag line when the tub gets flipped open end first. My concern here is the spar when Pounds per Square Inch comes into play. It takes less pressure to grip a branch in the middle and pull one side down. SNAP! Consistent pressure at both end will cause it to bend, but not break. The line taking the tension sounds like anchor line since as the ship’s own carpenter and the captain have STATED, it’s like dragging One and a Half Sea Anchors. Why use a sea anchor with its weight only being distributed across 1/2 of a spar not designed for that use when instead they can drag Less than Half a sea anchor (one tub) with its weight, when engaged, spread across the Whole of the spar.

    On the other side, Equal and Opposite, the tub itself is going to want to move down when engaged putting vertical pressure on the back end of the tub and its connectors to the drag line. Potential failure point. That tub better be metal. A long drag line, attached to either end of the spar with the tub at the apex between when dragged would transmit that force horizontally and divided to either side.

    Really not seeing the point of dragging two of these things when one dragged directly behind the ship and then moved by shortening the drag line on one side or the other is overall simpler, spreads the pressure better across the whole top gallant spar jury rig, and has less of a chance of tangling.

    And all of that was without taking into account points of sail, windage on the tubs when vertical, and a host of other thoughts only just now popping into my brain.

    My four cents (I thought way way to much about this)

  10. Aenea says:

    @8 i don’t have an account over there, but I have since checked it out. Would love to read the logs of the ships that have used MWW method described above. It’s still the spar and tangling issue I’m most worried about. Makes sense now that this was basically a FAST jury rig and the Captain is planning on moving as soon as the wind changes. Hmm, wonder if he’ll rig up something a little less complicated that won’t snap the spar with less drag issues as soon as they’re underway moving.

  11. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @9 – Aenea

    The snippet says they are using gundeck water tubs. I may be mistaken, but I believe that it has been stated before in previous books in this series that the water tubs are made of iron. I don’t have the books available at the moment to confirm that thought. Someone correct me, please, if I am wrong.

  12. PeterZ says:

    One thing to remember about this system; it works as well if the ships moves either foreward or backward. The risk of tangling I think is outweighed by that benefit. A ships rarely goes backward, but a naval captain would like to have as wide a menu of manouver options available to him as is possible. This is especially true in enemy waters.

  13. PeterZ says:

    @11 You are correct, Robert. OAR during Archbishop Erayk’s trip to Telesberg and discussing Pasquale’s injunctions on how to keep water aboard ship.

  14. Drak Bibliophile says:

    In case somebody else wants to see David Weber’s comments on the replacement, the following is David Weber’s words not mine.

    As for the improvised rudder, while I wish I could take credit for it, it is an improvised rudder which was actually used (on more than one occasion) during the age of sail by highly experienced captains who were satisfied that it worked just fine. (Not all used casks; some used simple planks with the same sorts of toggle ropes; others used canvas drogues like sea anchors, but the principle was the same in each case.) There are several other possibilities which might have been employed; this one was selected because it works off the wheel (which many of the other improvisational systems used during the sailing period did not) and because it can be rigged in a hurry when time may well be vital. The loss not simply of the tiller head and rudder but of the gudgeons, plus the damage to the rudder post, make any notion of rudder repair impossible, and while there are a couple of other alternatives (which I considered and rejected) they would require the use of relieving tackles and result in a system which would be far slower to respond to helm orders . . . which would not be a good thing under their current circumstances. No jury rigged system is going to be perfect and (in fact) this one has a potential flaw which could well turn fatal under the wrong circumstances, but in my judgment it was the best of about half a dozen historical examples I considered, given the situation, the time constraints on getting it rigged, and the nature of the ship’s damage.

    You are certainly welcome to suggest any other system you’d care to, but this is a topic I’ve been studying for, oh, forty-five years or so, and I assure you I did my research — and ran the idea past a well established sailor, who crewed on racing yachts for over twelve years — before I used this system in this case.

  15. Aenea says:

    @13 not sure if they are metal, I think injunction was about potable water storage not the tubs for refilling the buckets that swab out the cannons. I think these are wood since the description describes them floating open end down.

  16. PeterZ says:

    Alrighty, then, Destiny has her manouverability back and we can continue with the story. She sails to Silk Town and attempts to repair her rudder. That’ll take a bit of time. Where do we go after that; Irys in Delfahrak, Zion, Desnair, Siddermark or Thirsk in Dohlar?

    The story may revolve predominantly around the mainland. I don’t see much offensive action against Charis happening, but many possibilities on the mainland for mischief. This may mean introduction to new characters in Silkiah to introduce us to the complexities of mainland politics.

  17. PeterZ says:

    @15 you are probably right, Aenea. Hadn’t thought of that.

  18. This is excellent writing, worth every penny and more.

  19. KenJ says:

    It specified that these are “gun deck” water casks… as in: water to cool the guns between shots. I suspect they are wood. Wood would be lighter in weight (not a small consideration considering the worry about “calving” as stated in OAR) and have the added benefit of adding less stress on spars already stressed to the max by momentum-vs-mass-vs-drag already in play. I suspect that in combat, these wooden casks are simply filled with the most readily available source of water: the sea. Salt water would quickly corrode Iron casks and they would be much more difficult to empty after combat when securing if the casks were made of wood.

  20. robert says:

    @19 KenJ, the purpose of the casks is, I would think, to wet the sponge that cleans out the cannon after each firing (the “spunging out” that one reads about in everything from O’Brian to Kent). Would salt water be used for that purpose?
    From wikipedia: “Prior to loading, the cannon would be well cleaned with a sponge to remove all sparks, filth, and dirt.”

  21. Nimitz13 says:

    It will be interesting to see how well the Destiny fights with this jury-rigged system, should it come to that.

    Their orders are to avoid Silkiah Bay, let alone Silk Town, so unless they have the freedom to ignore those orders if drastic repairs are needed, “Thol Bay in Tarot, the closest friendly naval base,” (from snippet 5) is their only choice but it’s “better than three thousand miles” away. It’s unlikely they could sail that far with this steering setup, facing storms, higher waves, etc. A squadron of six galleons to reinforce them is only 4-5 days away, and the Destiny can notify Thol Bay of their predicament by wyvern in 3 days once the weather clears. There’s no way to notify the approaching reinforcements of their current location however.

    The Silkiahns owe their independence to the COGA, so sailing into Silktown isn’t a good option for a Charisian warship, even though Charisian ships under other flags are being given a wink and nod for trading purposes. A Charisian war galleon can’t disguise what it is.

    I’d guess they’re going to run into the Desnarian navy, inflict heavy damage in the resulting battle, then scuttle the ship and Hektor and the survivors will be off to the mainland as POWs.

  22. PeterZ says:

    That assumes that Silkiah would prefer independance to being part of Siddermark. How do you know this is the case? Evidence does suggest that Silkiahn views are more similar to Siddermark than Desnair. That Silkiah is willing to skirt the G4’s directives in such times as these suggests that they are not automatically G4 proxies.

    The plot is leading us into Silk Town for sure and certain.

  23. KenJ says:

    @20 If that is what is available, yes. Fresh H20 is a VERY limited resource, even on modern ships. Even in the Navy, we had water rationing, especially on smaller ships that didn’t have the desalination capacity to provide unlimited water. The problem is exacerbated in a sail-powered ship. ALL consumable water has to be carried from port (Unless you can capture rain water.) In a months’-long deployment like this, every consumable drop is more precious than rubies and would not be wasted simply to cool down guns.

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