Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tales of Zimdar - 1 - Discovery

Her Royal Majesties steamship Drake leaves Weymouth, England in the summer of 1847, sailing south towards the Cape of Good Hope. It is starting the journey to India and is loaded with trade goods, building materials, and mail for the garrison posts. The latter is to be delivered throughout the East Indies trading company expansion.

The weather is fair with a slight breeze coming in off the Atlantic. Crisp and cool, it raises gooseflesh on the arms of Lady Sarah Swithington, late of Darby Dale, fiancée of Sgt. Major Reginald Fitzsimmons. Lady Swithington gently rubs her arms and smiles in anticipation of the voyage to come and the experiences of exotic ports of call.

Meanwhile, in the middle Atlantic, weather conditions have been remarkably placid for much too long...

The RMS Drake lazily sambas her way southward calling in ports Brest, Bordeaux, Oporto, Lisbon, Cadir and Gibraltar. Sarah and Sgt. Major Fitzsimmons visit each port, sightseeing, sampling local cuisine and storing memories. Sarah cannot imagine a more perfect trip.

The Drake is resupplied and provisioned while in Gibraltar. Capt. Roger DeKabanbouy also has her inspected and is satisfied with the report. Although, nagging in the back of his mind, why did the boiler suddenly cease operation between Lisbon and Cadir? Leaving Gibraltar and turning south toward the coast of Africa, the Drake makes good speed and the boiler rhythmically chugs a happy little melody.

Out in the Atlantic a clear sky and merciless sun begins to heat the water. Wind directions in Antarctica change and begin blowing northward. And cool breezes have been following the Drake southward since Weymouth.

Down along the coast of Africa the Drake makes port at Robat, Mogadore, and Bofadar. Selling most of their trade goods, the Captain and crew are happy. It is their intent to buy more on the "Coasts" that are quickly approaching. The lure of cheap Ivory, Gold and Silver has them smiling in anticipation. This will be a very profitable trip.

After a small toast in the Captain's cabin celebrating crossing the Tropic of Cancer, Sarah and Fitzsimmons retired to their cabins. The small dram of brandy had merely whetted the Sergeant Major's appetite, not quenched a thirst. The men of the Highlanders had nicknamed him Snort because of the prodigious amount of whiskey he could drink. One of his mates, Mark Winguthban, had said "If he is not on duty, he is drinking, watch your whiskey boys, he just snorts it down." That had been a good laugh and had cost Fitzsimmons a few more drinks. The name "Snort" had been with him since that day. Now where was that bottle?

Sarah entered her cabin and began to make preparations for her evening's repose. She absent-mindedly noticed that the swell was somewhat larger and the wind seemed to be picking up. One of her lamps was guttering somewhat. She needed to trim the wick. One last thing, though, she had better go check on Reginald. She had noticed the wistful look on his face as the Captain had put the stopper back in the decanter.

The voyage continued down the coast of Africa with stops at Port Lokko and Free Town. The Drake stopped at Monrovia on the Grain Coast and resupplied some of the foodstuffs. Turning east, she then began her voyage on down the Coasts, stopping at every port imaginable. The Drake's crew and Captain traded diligently picking up Ivory, Gold and Silver. As she neared the Mouths of the Quorra, preparing to turn south again, the boiler went out. No warning, nothing, one second it was perking along normally, the next it was ominously quiet. It did relight, after some effort, but its rhythm had changed.

The water vapor suspended over the area that had been heating for weeks met with the northerly flowing winds from Antarctica and the southern bound winds that had chased the Drake all the way from England. Rotation around the hot spot started almost immediately.

The party for crossing the Equator allowed the crew to blow off some steam. Snort lived up to his name and enjoyed himself tremendously. Even though he could drink prodigious amounts, he was never out of control. That would simply be bad form. But once the Drake left Nazareth it was back to work. The boiler was running rougher now although it had not failed again. Capt. DeKabanbouy makes inquiries at every port but spare parts were not to be found. He decided to press straight on to Cape Town in hopes that spare parts or at least an adequate smithy can be found.

The Drake's boiler died twice between Mayumba and Cape Frio. The crew had tried everything including a complete cleaning of all the firebox components while docked at Cape Frio. That helped somewhat, it was still off rhythm, but it did not die again during the remaining voyage to Cape Town.

The growing storm had been gathering strength and had grown into a full-fledged hurricane. It had wandered around the area like a drunken tripod dog, not quite deciding to travel east or west. But finally the winds from the north grabbed hold and started pushing the storm southeast.

At Cape Town the inquiries for spare parts went for naught. There were several smithies but the Captain thought his crew was more qualified than the smiths. He set them cleaning, lubricating and polishing one more time. The Drake replenished its fresh water supply and added some fruit to the stores. Snort and Sarah spent a delightful evening with an old friend of the Captain.

Mark Fairvictory was an excellent host and conversationalist. He enjoyed entertaining his old friend and the other travelers from home. The meal was superb, with excellent cigars and brandy afterwards. The dinner conversation embraced many subjects including news from England, local hunting conditions and sporting events. Fairvictory was extremely keen on his teams chances in the upcoming Cricket tournament and regretted that DeKabanbouy would not be around to watch.

The next day dawned crisp and clear, but there were ominous clouds off in the northwest and the swell was rising. The captain ordered the Drake to cast off, he was going to run in front of the storm. The Drake should be okay once it got around the Cape of Good Hope and sheltered on the eastern side of Africa. The Drake dropped south out of Cape Town, the boiler chugging right along. It stayed out south of the Cape, the Captain wanted to make sure there was deep water under the keel. And finally the Drake started its turn to the east.

The storm was a monster and its winds were gaining velocity, it was now bound directly for the Cape of Good Hope pushing high seas in front of it.

The captain realized he had dreadfully underestimated the storm, the seas were tremendous, with waves crashing over the bow. He ordered all his crew to be tied to lifelines and anything else lashed into place. Sarah and Snort were told to stay in their cabins and to hang on. It was going to be a rough ride. Finally he called for all the power the little boiler could produce. The Drake was pounding along, and the captain was worried.

The seas were immense, the Drake was barely capable of maintaining steerage, and the storm was pushing against it violently. Late in the day, the boiler simply gave up. The rough pounding had exacerbated the nagging internal problems and it simply couldn't cope anymore. The Drake, now without power, could only be pushed along in front of the storm. All the captain could do was to keep the Drake from capsizing by using the rudder to keep the bow into the waves.

The storm blew for several days, the Drake was totally lost at sea and the little ship was showing signs of the incessant pounding. It was tossed around as easily as dandelion seeds in a breeze. The storm winds were so fierce and shrill that one couldn't hold a coherent thought. Sarah was violently seasick and Snort was not much better although putting on a brave face. All were privately making their peace with the Lord in one way or another. Minutes passed like hours and days seemed like years. The storm raged on.

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