18. Sea Trials

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Aldrick watched the garland drift away in the waning ebb and the strengthening wind, then he said, "Right. Time to get on with it. Mister Moore, shorten-in."

"Aye, Sir. Shorten-in." 

The sombre mood quickly turned after the Master barked his orders. Hands scrambled to man the fore capstan, and they chanted, "Weigh-ho, weigh-ho, weigh-ho, haul 'er up," as they walked the bars around to wind the anchor rode aboard and down through the hawsehole to the cable locker. 

Aldrick assessed the wind and the current as the ship was slowly pulled toward her anchor. Two minutes later, Mister Moore reported, "Up and down, Sir."

"Very good." After another assessment of the wind, Aldrick said, "Weigh and hoist the jibs. Sheet to starboard."

"Aye, Sir. Weigh and jibs to starboard."

Once the anchor broke free of the bottom, Elizabeth began drifting astern, and as the jibs were sheeted and the wind filled them, the bow fell off to starboard. Aldrick waited while the ship slowly came about, and when satisfied with her heading, he said to the Master, "Unfurl and sheet all."

"Aye, Sir. All."

While the Master shouted orders, Aldrick sighted the wind over the compass card; then he turned to the helmsman. "Steer east by north."

"Aye, aye, Sir. Steer east by north."

After watching the hands scramble to set the sails and feeling the ship accelerate, Aldrick said to the Master, "Trim for east by north."

"Aye, Sir. East by north."

He then turned to the timekeeper's log and sandglass to confirm before beckoning the Coxswain. "Ten minutes or less remain of the afternoon watch. Keep them on deck after you muster the first dog in case we need them. We are about to press the ship to her limits." 

"Aye, Sir." The Coxswain smiled as the ship continued gaining speed, the rigging creaking and popping as it adjusted itself to the load of a strong wind for the first time. Mister Stacey joined him and the Captain as all eyes followed each new sound above, their concentration broken only by the ringing of eight bells. 

While the watch changed, Aldrick sent a hand back to the taffrail to ask what speed. The sailor returned to report, "She's been a bit more than eleven and a half the last three, Sir. They say she's about stopped rising."

"Thank you, lad."

Aldrick handed control of the ship to Mister Charles, the Third Officer. "Keep an eye on the rigging, and immediately you see something afoul, luff-up. I will be aft monitoring the sails, the rigging and the speed."

"Aye, Sir."

As he joined Elizabeth and Judith on the taffrail seats, he pointed up to the rigging. "It is best to see if we can break anything now. This is the purpose of sea trials. We are blessed to have a strong wind to test her, and it is building."

"But, the wind is not as strong now as it was when we were at anchor. It began decreasing as soon as we sailed away."  

Aldrick chuckled then pointed to the spume being torn off the crests of the waves astern. "It blows now beyond twenty knots, but because we are moving with the wind and are sailing at above eleven, we feel a relative wind of ten or less." 

Elizabeth pursed her lips and nodded. "That makes sense. So with the four-hour watches and three sets of crew to fill them, they are on duty eight hours and off for sixteen each day. Seems like a very relaxing schedule."

"Ah, but during their off-watch time, there are other duties — cleaning, maintaining, and so on. Plus the watch just relieved is called to assist with sail changes and other evolutions which need more than only the watch on deck." He pointed forward. "See all the hands with their eyes on the rigging. I have retained the afternoon watch on deck to be ready to assist if anything comes adrift or breaks."

"Do they draw lots to determine who gets all the night times?"

"I do not follow your meaning."

"A four-hour watch gives six per day, which means with three teams, they would be on duty at the same time every day and every night."

"Ah, I see. No, we have seven watches. The one now is divided into two watches of two hours each, and this allows the rotation to constantly change. It also allows all to enjoy the evening meal around the same time, giving the cooks an easier chore."

Judith nodded. "George told me he will be dining early because he goes on watch at six." 

"Yes, he has the second dog. You may dine with him, or you may wait and join the rest when Mister Charles is relieved."

"Dog?" Judith put a hand to her mouth. "Surely not."

Aldrick chuckled. "The two short ones are called dog watches. My grandfather said they were once called the dodge watches, meaning to avoid the repetition. But the meal this evening is mutton stew and biskets with dark ale." 

A while later, Wilson arrived and reported to Aldrick. "Still dry as dust below, Sir, stem to stern. She has taken her caulking well."

"Thank you."

The four sat chatting as Aldrick kept an ear and an eye for the ship. When he received a report of a decrease in speed, he checked the swells, the wind waves and the sails, then he walked forward and spoke with Charles. "Come starboard a point, maybe a bit less. Keep the wind pressing. Follow it as it veers."

"Aye, Sir. But our course?"

"We are well clear of land, and we have no course except that which will offer the full force of a following wind to test the ship."

"Aye, Sir. Shall I report changes?"

"Large ones only. And sighted ships."

"Aye, Sir."

Aldrick resumed his seat at the taffrail, monitoring the activities aboard, and at the watch change, he attended as Charles informed Wilson of the ship's speed, the course being steered, and their estimated position. Once Charles had turned over control of the ship, Aldrick took him aside and asked, "How was your first watch in charge?"

"Fine, Sir. A bit daunting to begin, but knowing you were there ready to step in, allowed me the confidence." He pointed to Brady. "That, and having a strong midshipman to assist me."

"You were that strong midshipman on our previous voyage, and your ability and confidence made it easy for us to promote you."

"Thank you, Sir."

"We will see you in the great cabin for supper at two bells."

"Aye, Sir." 

A few minutes later, Aldrick led Elizabeth below and into their night cabin to change into evening clothing for supper. When they were nearly undressed, she asked, "Why is Mister Stacey aboard? He does nothing but stroll around and look."

"He is here to note all arisings and have them attended."

Elizabeth giggled as she nodded to his crotch. "I thought I was the one to tend to those."

He chuckled as he took her in his arms and pressed his body onto hers, wriggling for emphasis. "With this one, you are. But in the nautical sense, an arising denotes something awry with the ship — something not working as intended."

She pressed her belly onto him and hummed a sigh. "This part seems to be working well."

He tilted his head toward the bed. "Shall we test how well?"

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