Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | April 3, 2015

Letters from the ‘Starbird’ #3


29 March, 1815

Dearest, dearest Sophie…

I am writing you tucked away in the corner of a public house, with only the light of a low candle. I must confess how torn I feel. The last week has been full of many accomplishments, which I will proudly share. Yet, even as our sailing time gets closer and closer, and I am so enthusiastic about getting underway, as we languish here in port, I cannot but feel melancholy. There are only men, here, of course, save for the strumpets making coin off the loneliness and baser instincts of the male species. I am having none of that, I assure you! I miss you so much.

But let me tell of the many great things. First, the new recruits and I finished our shore training. Lt. Darland proctored a test on navigation…and I was at the top of the class!! This not only gives me bragging rights–my mates were very congratulatory–but also, according to the articles of the ship, allows me first choice of stations! All of the available positions have not yet been passed down to the bosun, who oversees activities on deck. The Lieutenant, however, seems to think highly enough of me that he let me continue to study the charts while my mates were practicing on the rigging. I am no officer, for sure…
…sorry, I lost control of my pen. A fracas broke out, which is inevitable among inebriated sailors. I could go on about pent up frustration, tainted rum, and crimps, but I’ll leave that for another letter. I’ll simply say that a body suddenly slammed into my table, and the ink well was sent to the wall. Only after an hour and more could I sit in peace again, mostly because the patrons had largely collapsed. I am not one to turn down a tankard… Anyhow…

I will hasten to complete my letter, as the hour is late and tomorrow I will be back on duty. There is so much to tell! While, as I was saying, I think there may be greater responsibilities to aspire to, I am still learning the running of the ship. It has been ever more important for us to shadow the existing crew. I continue to learn from the men I have already mentioned, but there are new personalities I want to describe. One man everyone simply calls “The Jew.” This struck me, but he takes it in course. In confidence, I learned that his real name is Doron. There is Sherman, who is so efficient that I had trouble keeping up with his instruction, and Tamir, an Arab, who they say comes from a rich family in Egypt with thousands of date palms.

As we get closer to the grand voyage, we have been doing exercises in the bay. It is hard for me not to use the terminology of the trade, which I am sure would be completely incomprehensible to you. I will tell you one, and hope you understand it, as I must use it to explain my second accomplishment of the week. Naturally, a ship cannot head directly into the wind. Thus, if the course we require puts us into the wind, we must go back and forth in crooked lines so that our sails can still be filled. The action of moving the ship across the wind is called ‘tacking.’ I hope I have not befuddled or bored you, dear! Tacking must be done very precisely, lest the ship lose speed or even lose its course. We were just headed north up the coast in such a way, and I was on the ropes for the foresail or, as they call it, ‘jib.’ As we tacked, “helm’s alee!” the wheel man’s cry, I managed to handle the jib nearly perfectly. My pride was almost matched by the Lieutenant’s approving smile. “Most handily!” he told me. My heart nearly burst!

I must wrap up. I have been given my hammock. I know that, once we are underway, I will not be answering to Lt. Darland but to Lt. Angus Malcolm, a very experienced seaman with a bit of a reputation as a taskmaster. As such, I have been assigned to the starboard watch: Half of the deckhands are “starboard,” and the other half are “port.” Mr. Holtz, the owner, officially came aboard to give the crew his blessings and encouragement, which is a sure sign that we will not be in port much longer.

And this brings me back to my melancholy. As I sit here, alone and apart at the back of the inn, I know that I will soon be out and gone. The world beckons. Your face and your touch, your heart, call me home. The simple matter is that once I am out amongst the broad waves, I don’t know how often you will be hearing from me. Time is kept very accurately on a ship, so I intend to write you a letter every week, even though it may not make the post for months.

The candle flickers. Duty calls me to sleep. Know, as well as you can, that, while my eyes search the horizon, my hand will always reach back for yours.

Goodnight, my love.

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