With the required proof in their hands, attention turned to the most immediate pressing priority, namely what accessories could Tregellan fashion from the magnificent white tiger pelt. Not an insignificant amount of discussion was had, and Anton decided that, of course, he would have a hat made. Bennett took the teeth to fashion a necklace, and Robert took just enough for a codpiece. Manuel requested a strip of fur that he could adorn hit hat with, which very nearly had him summarily executed for treason, and he eventually settled for adorning his bandolier instead. Noone in this crew is allowed to possess a hat that could possibly rival the Captain’s!
Anton once again questioned Manuel over his relationship with the Duke of Seville, now that the Duke had been mentioned directly in the communique to the Apothecary, and Manuel once again reiterated his innocence. Searching the rest of the building, the crew found little of value and no monetary wealth whatsoever. It would appear that Zariska was quite far down the line in winding up her business, and her coin had already been moved.
The crew headed back to Tessa to hand in their discovery. She is delighted with the proof that they have located, and this is now enough to bring the matter before the Pirate Council. She asked if they had any inkling of who the agent might be that was mentioned in the note. At first Bennett suggested (jokingly?) that it was likely Manuel, but then he remembered the names on the ledger and suggested it could be the Pirate Lord Endymion, who had no numbers next to his name. Tessa looked surprised at this, saying that no one was more loyal than him.
However, all of that would have to wait for the time being, as the annual Pirate Regatta was almost upon them. The Master of Gales would be announcing the course in the next few days, and they should take every opportunity to prepare. Tessa would stake the crew’s entrance fee of 2000 PoEs. Anton went to talk to the Armada harbourmaster to enquire as to whether Captain Mauser would be participating. He thought that would be more than likely.
As they waited for the announcement, the crew took the opportunity to get the War Pig careened and ready for action. Manuel put the crew through their paces, and they also took the opportunity to head to a tavern to find out some gossip on the competition. Word was that this would be the most open race for years, now that the Master of Gales was no longer participating.
At last the announcement came; the race would be starting in 4 weeks’ time at Cauldron Rock, a small island at the very north of the Caribbean, close to the Eye, at the very edge of most charts. Bennett organised a farewell rum-soaked party for the crew and all of armada, with free rum for anyone who toasts King Neptune and the War Pig. And with sore heads the following morning, the crew set sail north, stopping en route at Port Royal to see if their property had sold (it hadn’t) and at Nassau to check in on their pirate crew in the Footman’s Grave (they weren’t in port, but seemingly were doing well for themselves).
Arriving at Cauldron Rock, they saw a large flotilla of vessels, not only the competitors but also well-wishers, spectators, gamblers, and Pirate Lords. They spotted the Red Knave at anchor, and made a point of anchoring right next to it, ensuring the Knave had a good view of the Pig’s eight-pounders. The afternoon before the race, the Master of Gales called every Captain and their First Officer aboard his war frigate, the Kraken. Tregellan took Bennett as his number one, and they headed over. Among the other competitors there, Tregellan set eyes on Mauser for the first time since being marooned, who was there with his First Officer, Riaris Krine.
The Master of Gales explained the race route to all present and gave each crew a basic map. They would be required to sail north east, sail between ‘Iris’ Splinters’, two jagged towers of rock about a hundred feet apart, and then head north west, skirting the edge of the Eye. The would then need to round Pinnacle Atoll, a jagged rock surrounded by two concentric rings of razor-sharp reefs, and make their way south west to the finish line at a small island called Coaming Point. The Master of Gales, a formidable, tanned, weather-beaten man, reminded all the competitors that this was a nautical race – not a battle or the opportunity to avenge old slights. Any ship caught attacking or unduly interfering with another would be disqualified, or if necessary, sunk. Nature would be their most dangerous enemy, and they would be wise to remember that.
There were sixteen ships in all taking part in this year’s Regatta, of all shapes and sizes including brigs, barques, sloops, schooners, and pinnaces. The list of ships participating was: Albatross, Barnacled Bitch, Bonny Witch, Darcy’s Pillage, Dragon’s Tooth, Lord’s Favour, Phantom’s Price, Promise’s Bounty, Redcap, Red Knave, Sea’s Largess, Skullduggery, Stormrunner, Sullied Strumpet, War Pig and Wave Wraith.
The morning of the race dawned under leaden skies and squalls of driving rain lashing down from the Eye. After an hour or so of shouting and jostling for position, the competitors were all lined up behind the start line formed by the Kraken and another ship, the Ocean’s Revenge. All eyes were on the Master of Gales as he stood atop a rocky outcrop on Cauldron Rock, raised his arms and cast his gaze upwards. As a flash of lightning and clap of thunder struck, he lowered his arms signalling the start of the race. At that exact moment, the winds shifted from northerly to easterly, causing chaos among the ships on the start line. Bennett at the helm skilfully avoided all the other ships milling around and made a clean getaway and the War Pig raced off north east towards the first hazard, the Silted Shrouds.
The Silted Shrouds were an extensive series of shallow sandbars formed by the continuous action of the Eye. There were no up to date charts of the area as they are continually washed away and new ones form. The task fell to Tregellan to chart a course through the area, and to determine what speed they should travel at. With Sven’s Eye in hand, the Captain selected a moderate speed, and expertly guided the War Pig through the maze without once needing to backtrack, improving their chances in the race significantly as others would surely have had problems.
Once they emerged from the Shrouds, it would seem that they were not as unscathed as they had thought, as Bennett at the helm reported that the War Pig was handling sluggishly. The rudder had become jammed up with silt and sludge after having navigated the shallows. A sudden realisation dawned on the crew as it became apparent that nobody on board had any repair skills. All the officers tried their hand at unjamming the rudder, but when they failed, they turned to the crewmen to see if any of them could assist. As it turned out, Crewman Henry had a natural flair for ship repairs, and got them underway again. Bennett and the War Pig made excellent progress across the open water, until they came across the next obstacle in their path, the Raker Shoals.
Raker Shoals were a series of low lying coral reefs. Tregellan proceeded to plot a course through the obstacle, instructing that Jiim, Manuel and Robert went on lookout to spot any uncharted reefs that could get in their way. Manuel went up to the vantage point of the crow’s nest, with the other two on deck straining their eyes to see the reefs in their path.
They proceeded with caution initially, and Manuel spotted a reef in their path a sufficient distance away that made avoiding it easy for Bennett. The Captain ordered that they accelerate, and again Manuel picked out the reef, just in time for Bennett to swing the War Pig around it. Maintaining their speed, the Spaniard in the crow’s nest clearly had his eye in and noticed another reef way ahead of them in the distance, allowing the War Pig plenty of time to tack around it. Filled with confidence now, Tregellan again ordered that they increase their speed. At this rate, it became a lot harder for the lookouts to pick out the low lying reefs in time – Jiim noticed one just over a hundred feet in front of them, and it required all of Bennett’s piloting skills to avoid tearing the hull of the ship on it. Perhaps seeing sense, Tregellan slowed the ship down, and Robert picked out the final reef with time to spare. The crew had successfully got through the dangerous reef, but once again the rudder became unresponsive. Clearly Crewman Henry had not managed to remove all the previous blockages. Once again the officers had no idea how to repair the rudder, so it fell to the crewmen; this time Crewman Croissant managing to unclog the mechanism. Emerging from Raker shoals brought them into the Devil’s Flow.
The Devil’s Flow, more commonly known as the Devil’s Piss amongst sailors, was an area of powerful swirling ocean currents sweeping down from the eye. The crew had the option of sailing around the area, but Tregellan ordered that they plough straight through. Navigating the treacherous currents, whilst tacking into the strong winds, proved extremely challenging, and even Tregellan was slightly slowed, but the crew made it through much faster than sailing around would have been. The wind and the rain had left the deck of the War Pig slick and slippery though, and both Bennett and Crewman Shotliff lost their footing. Bennett managed to grab hold of a rope, but Shotliff was not so lucky and was washed overboard. The Captain feebly threw a rope in his direction, but the distance he had washed out was simply too far. In an act of heroism, Robert lashed a rope around himself and leapt into the swirling sea, swimming strongly through the currents to the stricken crewman. Manuel picked up the other end of the rope and hauled the pair of them back aboard. Shotliff was safe, but the crew had lost a little time, although this time was swiftly made up by Bennett as the War Pig skimmed over the sea at speed towards Iris’ Splinters, and the edge of the Eye.
As they approached Iris’ Splinters, the two towers of rock, they spotted another competitor, the schooner Sullied Strumpet, ahead of them, about to thread the Iris. As it approached the rocks, a giant turtle-like behemoth surfaced from beneath the waves underneath the unfortunate schooner, capsizing her and sending her crew into the waters. The schooner quickly disappeared beneath the waves, and the turtle began feasting on the helpless sailors in the water. Robert asked if they should save the sailors, but Manuel was far more interested in not drawing attention to themselves, suggesting that they should “sail casual”. The turtle was close to the rock towers though, and although it seemed it was more interested in feasting on the sailors in the water, there would be no avoiding it. The small pinnace, the Redcap, now appeared in the vicinity, behind the War Pig.
Tregellan ordered that they approach the Splinters, and manned one of the eight-pounders on the starboard side, along with Jiim and three of the more proficient gunners amongst the crew. It did not take long for the behemoth to finish off the sailors in the sea, and began to move towards the opening between the rocks in an attempt to block the War Pig’s passage. However the War Pig’s greater speed and manoeuvrability , coupled with Bennetts skill at the helm, quickly brought the War Pig alongside the beast, allowing them to broadside it with all their firepower. Anton and Jiim both connect with the eight-pound guns, but its shell was tougher than any ship’s hull, and they only managed to wound it. Fortune favoured them, however, and they managed to reload and get off another shot before the beast could react. Anton’s shot bounced off the shell, but Jiim connected with it once again, and it was Crewman Moore, manning a four-pounder, that finally finished the beast off and sent it to the bottom of the sea. Bennett had no trouble threading the Iris at speed and sailing off toward the Eye.
The Eye itself did not seem to want any intruders, and a rogue wave crashed over the deck of the War Pig, sending everyone sprawling. Seven crewmen were washed overboard by the force of the water, leaving the War Pig no alternative but to stop and try to pick them up. Manuel launched the longboat and tried to get to the stricken crewmen as fast as he could, however only five sailors could be located. The Eye had claimed crewmen Pierre and Yarr, god rest their souls.
Again, any thought of taking the longer route around the Eye was not even considered by Tregellan, and they set course for Pinnacle Atoll, through the fringes of the Eye. Once again, the slick deck caught out Crewman Metford who fell overboard, but was quickly rescued, only causing them a slight delay. And then, once again, that damn rudder jammed. This was starting to look like more than a coincidence now – had the rudder been sabotaged at some point, perhaps when the ship was careened? However future-ships-carpenter Henry once again repaired the damage and they got underway. The Eye now seemed sated, and presented no further hazards to the crew as they approached Pinnacle Atoll
Pinnacle Atoll was a tower of rock, surrounded by the two concentric circles of Sharkskin Reef. The crew could go around the whole obstacle without danger, which would be a much longer route, or they could choose to go through one or both of the rings of reefs; both being the shortest, yet most dangerous route. It should come as no surprise to anyone that this was never really a choice, as Captain Tregellan ordered the ship to take the quickest, most dangerous route. All the officers kept an eye out for reefs, as the danger of a wave washing the ship onto the reef was very real. Sailing through the first ring, nobody spotted the danger, but the canny Bennett muttered a quick prayer to Neptune, who saw the War Pig safely through. Tensions ran high as they sailed through the second ring, with Robert spotting a jagged reef just in time for Bennett to avoid it. They rounded Pinnacle Atoll and sailed southwest. Manuel shouted the alert to Bennett this time who managed to avoid the rocks, riding the very last of his luck. One more ring of reefs remained, and Jiim alerted Bennett to the danger. With his palms sweating on the helm despite the rain, he swung the War Pig to port with the reef just gently grazing the side of the hull. They were through!
But, unbelievably, that damn rudder had gone, yet again! This time, Jiim himself managed to fix it, having taken note of what had been done before. This was certainly something that would need to be looked at once they got back to port.
But despite being on the home stretch, port seemed a very long way away, as they sailed into an electrical storm. As if that wasn’t enough, cries went up around the ship as the lightning seemed to coalesce on top of their mainmast into some form of beast. Bennett was the only one who wasn’t surprised by this, clearly having heard tales of such beasts in his days at sea. The beast formed around the crow’s nest, lightning crackling and the smell of sulphur filling the air, as the crew readied themselves.
TO BE CONTINUED…