Research on the sea

Research has taken me to many strange and wonderful places over the years … a Navajo pueblo at Christmas, a Cornish mine, up in a Zeppelin airship … to name only a few. Sweetie is the most obliging man—whatever adventure I drag him along on, he’s happy to go (though the Zeppelin did test his fortitude; too many Hindenburg newsreels).

Watching the crew set sail
Watching the crew set sail

This week’s adventure was in support of the Rogues of St. Just series: a battle sail in Monterey Bay between the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, two reproduction ships that are on tour on the west coast this spring. I was particularly interested in the Lady Washington, because she is a brigantine like the one that appears in The Rogue to Ruin. My heroine is to christen her, but where would she stand? What’s the actual name of the poop deck? Who calls the orders? How big is the ship in real life?

All my questions were answered. Miss Penrose would stand on the deck, but not the quarterdeck. Historian Timons Esaias told me that before the custom of smashing bottles of champagne over the bow, people would splash wine on the mast and deck to christen a ship. On the Lady Washington, I had my choice of mainmast or foremast. Once I was aboard, I could see the scene clearly.

And the orders! Such fun for a person who enjoys language and its intricacies. The first mate, a dashing individual in a peacoat and sunglasses, was utterly calm as he called the orders.

“Hands to braces!”

“Hands aloft! Loose fores’l … steady as she goes … loose t’gallants!”

“Clear battle deck—powder on deck!”

I loved it. And because of reading up on sailing ships beforehand, I knew what the commands meant, and could only watch in awe as the sailors climbed the rigging to set sail. Which only got more awesome when we cleared the land and were five miles out in the ocean proper. The masts swung back and forth in the most alarming way as the ship rolled with the swells. And yes, in case you are wondering, I hung on to my breakfast. The trick is to look at the horizon, not the swell, while you tell yourself you’re watching for whales.

“Hands to braces—slack starboard fores’l.”
“Hands aloft—strike t’gallants!”

What a great day of research. What a brave crew. As they say, May God bless her and all who sail in her!

Hawaiian Chieftain coming about to fire her cannon
Hawaiian Chieftain coming about to fire her cannon
Rigging of Lady Washington in harbour
Rigging of Lady Washington in harbour
First mate of the Lady Washington
First mate of the Lady Washington