4. Of Ships and Crew

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Elizabeth gazed up into Aldrick's eyes as she nodded. "Most certainly I will go to sea with you. But can you abide my ignorance of all things nautical?"

"You have thus far assimilated every concept I have placed before you, and you have built upon many of them. Why would this not continue? Sailing is not mysterious witchcraft; it is logical, and so are you."

She smiled while listening, then her face clouded. "But I am certain my father will not allow it." 

"As I had expected, and I thought we should keep it from him until we are wed. After that, he will no longer have say above me." 

Matthew had watched the intercourse in silence, then he said, "It invites misfortune to have a woman aboard."

"Fables and fallacious thinking, Grandpa. Consider all the women who have crossed to the colonies in the Indies, the Cape and the Americas. Their ships did not founder." 

"But Jack Rackham was not captured until he, hum..." He paused and glanced at Elizabeth. "After he had taken the two women aboard." 

Aldrick laughed. "I was only yesterday reading about Calico Jack while I investigated the Bahamas. His base was Nassau, and his capture was during the final round of ridding the waters of pirates. Many others were taken during that time, most without women aboard."

"Will she not distract you from your duties?"

"She will be an inspiration to succeed." He smiled down at Elizabeth as he guided her to a chair. "And she will offer insights beyond mine."

"But is it safe for a woman down there? Pirates still roam those waters."

"We saw none our last three voyages, and I have been told there has been none since William Fly was hung and gibbeted six, nearly seven years ago." Aldrick laid the maps beside the chair as he sat.

"So, I assume you have come to ask me to provide a ship for you?"

"No, Sir. I shall provide my own."

Matthew laughed. "With what?"

"Father's estate has fallen to me, along with his baronetcy."

"Yes, of course." He tapped his head. "So many things slip these days. What manner of ship have you in mind?"

"A lighter and faster vessel. I fancy a snow-rigged sloop for her ability to sail within four points of the wind."

"Yes, that would make lee shores much less a concern." Matthew took another sip of wine, then after a pause, he continued, "But will a smaller ship be able to carry enough guns?"

"There is no longer a need to be so heavily armed; a small deterrent to keep the honest that way is sufficient. She needs only burthen to carry forty tons of treasure home, and without having to ship fifty or sixty tons of guns, she can be light and nimble."

Matthew motioned for the butler to approach, and after requesting the claret jug be replenished, he turned again to Aldrick. "With sloops being a novelty, finding one available will be difficult." 

"The Admiralty commissioned twelve last May, and they were launched in September. I was aboard one in the Upper Wet Dock only yesterday." 

"Have the Lords of the Admiralty again lost reason? Why would they sell a newly-built ship?"

"They are not selling. I was taken aboard by Mister Stacey, the Master Shipwright at Deptford, to examine his craftsmanship. He had built three of them, and he can build one to the same design for me..." Aldrick paused and turned his attention to Elizabeth. "For us. And he is awaiting my confirmation, which lacked only your agreement to accompany me."

Elizabeth sighed. "More reasons you had not called on me. You had been busy while I fretted."

"I should have sent a note to you." Aldrick caressed her hand.

Matthew cleared his throat to gain Aldrick's attention. "And how is he able to use His Majesty's Dockyard to build a private ship?"

"He is not, Grandpa. Richard Stacey has a slipway just downstream in Deptford Creek. After completion of the three sloops, work in the yard slowed, and many shipwrights were released from their places, providing him proven skilled workers from which to select."

Elizabeth looked up from her glass after the butler had refilled it. "This bodes well for high quality. And how long will it take to build it — to build her?"

"Mister Stacey told me the three Navy sloops were laid down the beginning of July and launched in early September, so eight or nine weeks. The fitting out and rigging were completed the middle of October, and he assured me if they begin construction next week, we can expect to sail away before the middle of August."

"Four months." She pursed her lips. "A long time, but not. Will I be able to learn all about the sea in that short period?"

Matthew guffawed. "A lifetime is not sufficient to learn all about the seas. They have secrets yet undiscovered, many of them not even dreamt. Besides, the life at sea cannot be learnt ashore. It must be lived to be understood."

"Yes, as with most things." Elizabeth nodded as she turned to Aldrick. "Will there be others to assist us as I learn?"

A broad smile spread across Aldrick's face as he restrained his laugh. The Admiralty has set the complement of these sloops at eighty, but —"

"Complement?"

"The number of officers and hands aboard to sail her."

"Why so many?"

"The ship is sailed twenty-four hours a day, every day for many weeks on end. There must always be someone steering the correct course, tending the sandglasses, handling the logline, plotting the traverse board, maintaining a lookout for land or other ships. But not one of each. Three of each are required to keep a constant watch day and night, and there also must always be hands available to adjust the sails as required. "

"Such a large crew. I had never paused to think about it." 

"There are more. We need carpenters and swains to maintain the ship, cooks to keep us fed, and a surgeon to ensure our health and to repair us as necessary. And above all this, experienced and responsible officers must be on watch at all times, day and night to make decisions and to oversee."

"And where do you fit into this?"

"Making sure it all works smoothly."

Elizabeth sat silent, slowly bobbing her head for a long while before she spoke. "Would I not be in the way? I know not how to do any of this. Are you certain you want me aboard?"

"You have told me you thrive on acquiring new knowledge."

"I do."

"And you crave adventure."

"That also." The expression of concern faded from Elizabeth's face, replaced with a smile as she took Aldrick's hand. "We have much to do before we sail away."

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