Monks Orchard 3

Another excerpt

He looked about. It was all too surreal for him. His world was crashing down in a tailspin of terror. Small snippets of his current situation bounced in and out of his thought process: the helmsman, the crew, the fallen main mast, the storm, the howling wind, the crashing waves, below decks, Henry. The scene in his mind’s eye kept repeating itself over and over again…unrelenting, spinning, out of control and eerily silent. Everything seemed to occur in slow motion.

“And what of Marijke? And the children. How will she survive
without me?” He cried.

“Sir, sir…SIR!” His mind’s hallucinations were suddenly shattered
with the interruption of reality’s discourse. Michael looked about
and saw the sailor directly in front of his face, yelling at him above
the noise of the storm. His spittle mixed with the salt in the air.

“Right” Michael thought out loud.

“Sir, we have cut most of the lines but I am afraid some are
unreachable.” He paused and drew Michael’s attention to the port
side. What Michael saw disturbed him. The ship was now leaning
dangerously to port. Heeling hard. Every wave off of the starboard
quarter was pushing the port side gunnels and bulwarks under the
water. The main deck was now at a dangerous angle. Soon, if things
do not relent, the ship will reach its tipping point and go over.

Michael ran back to the helm. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have
to. He could see the pain and stress of effort as the three men tried to
keep the ship upright. He could also see the fear on their faces. They
looked at Michael pleadingly as if he could enact a miracle to save
them all. He couldn’t.

Suddenly a loud crash, then a boom. A loud, nerve wracking,
spine tingling scraping noise. The ship stopped abruptly from its
forward momentum. So much so that Michael and all of the crew
were thrown to port. One or two of the men working amidships
were thrown over the side into the cauldron of churning water with
current. Gone! This could mean only one thing to Michael. They had hit a reef, or one of the shoals off Gravelines. The ship was lost.

The ship began to bounce hard across the shoals, periodically rising like a cork then floating on the crest of a wave or swell, and then down hard again on to another pinnacle of the reef. No movement. The ship was leaning more and more to port. Water cascaded across the decks, down the hatches and through the openings of the holds. At the same time the hull on the port side was breached. Water flowed in undeterred. The ship was sinking and going over fast. A capsize was imminent. The crew knew this and understood the dangers. Every man was for himself. For Michael a decision was not necessary. The very next lurch cast him over the side and into the cold water. He was gone and alone.

Somehow, when Michael awoke to his reality, he found himself holding onto a wide wooden plank. He did not know how he had done this as he had no recollection of going over the side or finding this plank. He was in shock. He looked about and could no longer see his ship. Flotsam abounded. Barrels and bales of cloth were floating everywhere. Waves crashed in and out of the shoals and reefs. He could not see any of the other men who may have survived the sinking. It was bitterly cold. He tried to climb up onto the wide plank but to no avail. The sea around him remained chaotic. The storm clouds were dark and foreboding. It was raining hard, falling sideways and stinging his eyes. It was late afternoon but it seemed like nightfall. It was cold…the air and the water. Michael could feel himself passing out. He fought hard to stay awake. Passing out meant certain death. He had to fight the feeling of hopelessness. He prayed hard, as best he could.

Just then some rope passed him by. He grabbed it then secured
himself to his wooden float. It seemed to take forever to accomplish
such a simple task. A few minutes of time after securing himself he
passed out.

The Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch and the Spanish in
Flanders and in northeastern France, which began in 1568 was
still raging. It had morphed into the Thirty Years’ War, which
would end in 1648 in the Dutch’s favor over Spain in a few years
hence. Nevertheless, Spain controlled the area around Gravelines
and ran regular patrols off the coast. During one of these patrols
some Spanish soldiers witnessed the destruction of the MONK’S
ORCHARD II from a safe and secure shelter above the beach.
Expecting debris from the wreckage that may be of value some of
the soldiers braved the weather and walked down to the beach. There
they found flotsam: bales of cloth washed ashore, barrels of wine
floating in the shallows along with other shipboard equipment and a
few bodies — drowned. One sailor thought he saw a large batch of
artifacts from the wreck a way down the beach. As he approached
the debris, he saw that it was a body attached to a broad wooden
plank. He ran over and discovered that the body was warm and still
alive. He yelled out to his colleagues:
“Hey, hey felows. Por aquí. Ven rápido…come here, come here,

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What, me worry?

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Have a great weekend.


Have a read.


Monk’s Orchard 2

Carrying on:

He ran back to the afterdeck and to the helmsman. Try as he might the helmsman could not control the movement of the ship. The canvas sails were beginning to be pulled over the sides; the weight and downward pressure from the sea was pulling the hull dangerously over. The ship was out of control.

“Where is Henry?” Michael yelled to the helmsman over the noise and confusion of the storm. The helmsman, shrugged. “I do not know sir.”

“Try to point the ship directly into the wind, if you can.”

“Aye sir but it is tough. I can feel the strain on the entire ship. The
rudder is under tremendous pressure.” He yelled back at Michael
above the ambient noise level. Michael looked at him, then forward
then back again. Suddenly something to port caught his eye.


“How can this be?” he thought to himself. Then it dawned on him.
The ship was dangerously close to the shoals and reefs of Gravelines,
a small port off France’s northeast coast. The irony was not lost on
Michael. Here, just over 50 years ago, his grandfather and the Royal
Navy had it out with some of the galleons of the Spanish Armada,
at least those ships that had escaped the ‘hellburners’ but had not
reached the open North Sea to escape.

“God damn it.” He cursed under his breath, and then made the
sign of the cross.

Michael ran forward as best he could. The men below were now
on deck. Michael yelled at them to grab axes, swords, anything sharp
and begin to hack away at the ends of the running rigging that were
still secured to the ship’s superstructure and hard points. They had
to free the end of the rigging that was still secured to the ship to
relieve the pressure of the sails in the water and let them run free
and hopefully clear of the ship’s hull and keel. The sailors began to
hack away. They had to be careful as the rigging was as taught as
harpsichord wire. Tremendous pressure was exerted on the rigging
so much so that as the axes came down and cut the lines they flew off
at such a force that a man’s head could be cut off cleanly if caught in
the line of trajectory.

Michael ran forward up the starboard side, which was now the
high side of the ship, dangerously so. He looked aft and saw that
the helmsman was being helped by two of the crew. By the look and strain on their faces it would appear that they were having little luck in controlling the ship.

He continued forward. Suddenly he heard some screams below him. He looked down and was shocked to see Henry caught on the underside of one of the booms, which had separated from one of the main mast yardarms when it came down. Michael bent down to examine Henry’s condition. He could see that both of his legs had been crushed and were pinned down by the weight of the yardarm and mast itself. Michael tried his best to relieve the pressure but to no avail. He yelled at Henry as best he could over the noise of the storm. To make matters worse wave after wave of cold channel water crashed over the starboard side bulwarks soaking Michael and Henry.

Henry could not move. It was impossible for Michael to save Henry. Every slight jar of the boom caused Henry unbearable pain.

“You Michael…sir. Forget about me…I am finished. Save the ship.”

Michael was caught in a moment of indecision. He knew he could not help his friend and shipmate but did not want to leave him. He looked about for help but all hands were busy.

“Go Michael…go. Forget about me. Save yourself and the ship.”

Michael stood up. He felt considerable remorse and guilt considering his current situation but he knew Henry to be right. Slowly he walked back, away from Henry’s sight. He could not bear to see the hopelessness and fear on Henry’s face. He knew that death was sure to come. Another wave came crashing over the bow drenching Michael. The shock of the cold water woke him up to his reality.




Monk’s Orchard

An excerpt from Monk’s Orchard:

“It is not looking good Michael.” His second in command said. “I don’t think we should proceed. We should head back to Bruges.”

Michael looked about his environment. He studied the sky, measured the strength of the wind, eyed the seas then examined his sail trim. The ship was dangerously heeling to port. It took all of the strength of the helmsman to keep her on a steady course. The ship moved precariously, jerking and shuddering with each gust of wind from side to side in a very wide arch. It seemed at times that the entire ship would implode into itself by the short pounding seas. They were close to losing control. The wind was getting stronger and stronger from the northwest, whistling as it was through the rigging in a very high pitch squeal.

“I think we should be fine Henry” Michael yelled. “But to be
sure, take down the top gallants. Leave only the main sail up, furled
slightly, and one staysail. We will leave the mizzen out.” This was the
same staysail innovation and configuration that his grandfather used
during the war with Spain. The man he was named after.

Their ship, the MONK’S ORCHARD II, turned into the wind
to affect the sail changes ordered by Michael. Gingerly executed,
entirely under the watchful and experienced eye of Henry, the ship
immediately came under control and slowed down considerably.
Steering became less onerous. Henry looked at Michael and smiled.
He gave him a ‘thumbs up’ gesture. Happy with the sail change Michael yelled back at Henry telling him to stay on deck while he did some rounds below.

The sail changes ordered by Michael calmed things considerably
but this was only temporary. The wind became stronger and stronger
out of the northeast. It was almost storm force winds that challenged
their tiny ship. As Michael went below decks he was struck by the
creaks and groans of the wooden beams and planking of the ship’s
hull. Sudden lurches and gut-wrenching crashes occurred without
warning every time the ship fell forward and down into a trough or
a rogue wave crashed against the hull’s quarter. This was extremely
disconcerting if not dangerous. One could lose their balance
immediately and be seriously injured.

Below decks things were chaotic. MONK’S ORCHARD II had
not been entirely secured for sea as most times the passage from
Bruges to Southampton was a relatively calm one. Barrels, staves
and bales of cloth, wine and cheeses on the main cargo deck were
tossed about like children’s toys. Barrels in particular were a cause for concern. Loose and rolling about, they could crush a man in an instant, without any warning. A few sailors, who were off watch, tried to catch a few minutes sleep. They were being tossed about in their hammocks or bunks entirely oblivious to the dangers around them. Michael raised an alarm, roused the sailors, and ordered them to tie down anything and everything that could move about.

Suddenly a loud crash was heard about him. The ship’s bulkheads creaked and shuttered. The entire main deck above him seemed to be on the verge of collapse. He thought he detected some screams in between the noise of the seas and the wind. He turned, bounded up the ladder of the main hatch and found himself topside. What he saw terrified him. The main mast had collapsed and had crashed on to the deck. Sails and rigging were lost in a chaotic maelstrom of hemp and canvas. The large oak mast was down across the deck perpendicular to the fore and aft lines of the ship. Some of it was hanging precariously over the port side. Michael saw the danger immediately. If the large canvas sail areas fell into the sea there was a good chance that the downward pressure of the water on these sails could pull the entire ship over onto its port side. If that occurred the ship and its crew and cargo would be lost.

Check out my book Monk’s Orchard. Click on the link at the top of the page.