16. Fit-out and Aboard

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Friday, 31st July 1733

Elizabeth was launched at high tide on Monday, the second day of June, and she was towed up the river to the derrick at Jamaica Point Wharf to have her masts stepped and stayed and her spars raised and hung. While this work progressed, shipwrights, carpenters and cabinetmakers swarmed through the ship to continue the fitting-out of her interior. In late June, she was moved back downriver to lay to the wharf in Deptford Creek to commence her rigging.

Aldrick and Elizabeth had regularly visited the ship to see the progress on their way to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, only a mile away, where they compiled tables of solar, lunar and stellar angles from the astronomers' records. Since the middle of June, they had taken a suite of rooms in the Anchor Inn there, both to save the ride back and forth from London and for the cleaner air.

During their visit to the boatyard on the last Friday in July, Mister Stacey informed them that Elizabeth would be ready for sea trials the next Wednesday. Aldrick smiled, then said, "Now another day earlier as you continue to gain on the schedule. Will she be ready to receive our crew aboard on Monday that they may begin to learn her?"

Stacey nodded. "All will be complete below decks before the end of to-morrow, so they are free to move aboard as soon after that as you wish — Saturday evening or Sunday. The last of the rigging should be finished midday Tuesday; then your lads can help with the bending-on of sails."

Aldrick paused to think. "They have been warned to be ready to board from Monday onward, and it is best to keep it at that. Give them the time with their families."


Monday, 3rd August 1733

The August sun had warmed the stone face of the wharf by the time the last of the crates, bundles and bags had been lowered into the barge. Aldrick and Wilson escorted Elizabeth and Judith along to the Dorset Stairs as the barge was lined along the wharf to them.

While they waited on the embankment for the crew to descend and board, Aldrick explained, "The tradition is for the most senior to board a longboat, a gig or a barge last and to disembark first." 

Elizabeth nodded. "Unlike some, this tradition makes sense. It allows the senior ones to spend as little time as is possible in the discomfort." 

"I had not looked at it that way. My thought has been to ensure all were safely aboard, and then to lead them off at the destination."

As soon as they had boarded and settled onto the coarse benches, the bargee ordered the mooring lines let go and the sails sheeted in as he steered the barge into the stream of the ebbing tide toward the highest arch of London Bridge

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As soon as they had boarded and settled onto the coarse benches, the bargee ordered the mooring lines let go and the sails sheeted in as he steered the barge into the stream of the ebbing tide toward the highest arch of London Bridge. After they had passed through and had sailed beyond the Tower, Aldrick pointed to the right bank. "That broad inlet is Saviour Dock where we will store ship and take on cargo. Lead for Bordeaux and copper and tinware for Kingston." 

Elizabeth followed his raised arm. "When will that be?"

"If all goes well at sea, we should commence on Friday."

They continued their intercourse while the barge glided downriver in the ebb, assisted by her sails. The sun had begun its descent toward the western horizon when the barge was steered into Deptford Creek. Then following the bargee's flurry of orders, they secured beneath the accommodation ladder which had been deployed on Elizabeth's port side.

Once the height of the ladder had been adjusted, Aldrick led the way up, followed by Elizabeth, Judith and Wilson, and when she arrived on deck, Elizabeth asked, "Why did you call these stairs a ladder?"

"There are no stairs aboard a ship, at least not in name. All are referred to as ladders, regardless of their configuration." He motioned aft. "The ladder leading from our great cabin to the quarterdeck is as elegant as the staircases in many houses, yet it is still a ladder."

When Charles, the Third Officer, arrived on deck, Aldrick bade him to supervise the boarding of the crew and the loading of the crates, bags and bundles, and to see to their proper disposition and stowage. Then he led Elizabeth into the great cabin for the first time since its completion.

She stood in the doorway, speechless, her mouth agape in awe, then she turned and flung her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. He held her tight to him while she regained her voice. She lifted her head to gaze into his eyes. "So far beyond my imaginings and dreams."

"But you saw it in progress, and only a few days —"

"No, I mean you." She rose to her toes, and their lips met in a deeply passionate kiss. When finally they parted, she tilted her head toward the aft corner. "Shall we test the comforts in our night cabin?"

Aldrick adjusted himself in his breeches. "As much as I am up for that, the crew will soon bring our bags and bundles into here." He pointed to the curved ladder built into the forward corner. "Besides, we should go up top and watch the loading, and once they have finished, I need to address them. After that, we can bless our bed."

He kissed her again before he led the way up, unlocked the hatch and slid it back on its ways; then opening the low doors, he assisted her onto the quarterdeck. While they stood at the forward rail watching the activity, they were joined by Wilson and Judith. A few minutes later, once the loading was complete and the barge had departed, Franklin and Charles, the Second and Third Officers arrived beside them.

Aldrick surveyed the crew gathered amidships on the main deck, then he took the lanyard and rung a loud single peal on the bell. "Welcome aboard Elizabeth."

When the cheers subsided, he continued. "Most of you have been on one or more of our voyages, but there are a few new, as always we have. Remember your first voyage, and treat the new ones in the same helpful and accepting manner you had enjoyed."

He paused to watch the ripple of nods, then he continued. "Remember also your grandfathers or great-grandfathers who had been in Delfe, Santiago and San Joaquin in 1679. Remember the efforts of those who survived and the persistence of your forefathers following them."

After allowing their memories, he pointed his arm forward and aft and from side to side. "We have a new ship based on the latest Admiralty design, and she promises to be quick and nimble."

When the cheers quieted, he added, "And we have new information. And the Astronomer Royal has provided us with new methods to test in finding our position at sea and the positions of land."

After a pause, he resumed his address, "And we have a new rule to test." He motioned to Elizabeth and Judith. "This is my wife, Elizabeth..." He waited for the cheering to ease. "And this is Mister Wilson's Judith."

He held up his hand to quiet the crew. "They have agreed to come to sea with us to help test whether the old tales are true or false. You are to treat and respect them as officers, just as you do me, Mister Wilson, Mister Franklin and Mister Charles." 

Aldrick paused, trying to read the faces of the crew. Then he grasped the bell lanyard and sounded a long, loud series of peals as he pointed at the firkin of ale being slung aboard by the derrick. "Let us now all drink to a successful voyage and a happy ship." 

They stood at the rail and watched as the keg was nestled into a set of chocks, its bung replaced with a spigot and a crate of pewter tankards was broached. Three boys raced up the ladder with a tankard in each hand, and within two minutes, when all had a charge, Aldrick raised his ale high overhead. "To Elizabeth."


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