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Sails of Blood - a reworking of Sailing Against the Tide

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I re-wrote the beginning. Here it is. Comments and critique welcome.


30 April 1730 - At Sea


Anne McCormack ran her cutlass through the chest of the British patrol ship’s captain. He groaned as he slid to the ground, blood pouring from the wound to his heart. After wiping off the blade on her pantaloons, Anne turned to her crew. “We got him,” she screamed. “Start the rest of the fires and back to the ship.”

The crew took out the rest of the sailors left standing, lit the greasy fires they’d set, and made their way back onto the Betsy D. Anne went to the helmsman. “Sylvanus, take ‘er back.”

The helmsman started to turn the ship away from the British patrol frigate. The Betsy D’s guns had started the work that the fires was finishing. The ship was sinking. Anne looked down at the remaining frigate crewmen floundering in the seas. Anne knew most couldn’t swim and none would survive to identify their attackers.

The winds picked up so the ship was able to quickly distance herself from the wreck. The crew set about fixing the spars that had splintered in the fight as the ship’s doctor and cook Horace Wilberforce worked on the injured. Anne walked around watching the action and stepping in with questions or commands.

“How many lost, Mr. Wilberforce,” she asked.

The portly doctor looked up from the sailor whose wounds he had just bound. “Only four that I know of, Cap’n,” he replied.

“Good,” Anne replied. “I’ll get a detail to prepare the bodies.” Wilberforce moved to the next sailor, who was now without one arm.

She finished her rounds, giving comfort to the injured and congratulating all on a battle well fought. Anne went to her cabin without looking at the half or fully naked men, a skill she had learned over years of sailing. She sat on the bed and took several deep breaths.

“It’s getting’ harder,” she told herself. Then she grinned. “But at least I haven’t lost my touch.” She laughed until her fiery red hair shook out of its binding. To the crew, except for a few who knew the truth, she was Captain Andrew McCormack out of Ireland. The few knew her to be Anne Bonny Burleigh, the infamous Caribbean pirate turned smuggler. She had been leading the double life of plantation wife and mother and, twice a year, smuggling ship captain for XX years now.

It's getting harder, she thought as she stood up and took off the bloody pantaloons. They were her favorite pair so she decided to take them home for Maria, her housekeeper, to wash. She can get anything clean, Anne chuckled. Maria had learned that art of necessity on a plantation full of mud, burned tobacco leaves, small children and a mistress who came home from dangerous voyages with all kinds of stains for souvenirs.

Clean again, Anne sat at her desk to change the logs so that the ship never came anywhere near where the frigate had disappeared. She glanced at the manifest. A good lot of tea and rum. And just in time to outfit herself, Joseph and the children for the upcoming winter season. She caught herself taking stock of what each of them needed.

A knock on the door interrupted her ruminations. “Come!” she called out. Henry Boots, an able seaman who had been with her for five voyages now, appeared in the doorway.

“We’ve got the bodies set out, Cap’n. Do you want to ship ‘em today?”

Anne glanced out her window. The sun was setting but it was still light. She knew how superstitious sailors are. “Yes, are the survivors patched up?”

“Surgeon says to tell you they are.” Henry waited.

“Then let’s do it, Seaman. Go round everyone up on the larboard side near the mains’l.”

Henry put a knuckle to his forehead, the traditional salute of sailors, and left.

Anne sat thinking. She wasn’t sure whether to do a Bible reading. It meant nothing to her but some of the crew believed – if only because that’s what they were told to do growing up. She went to the shelf and slid open the door, removing a large black bible.

On deck, the crew stood quietly looking at the bodies on the deck. Unlike the British sailing dead, they weren’t covered by a flag.

Anne read the Twenty-third Psalm, a verse that all the sailors knew by heart. Then one by one, she announced the name of the dead. The body, bound in the canvas that had been the sailor’s sea bag slid off the ship and into the sea. When all four were committed, the crew went back to repairing the damage.

She told Boots, who was standing next to her, to send the First Mate to her cabin. Stopping along the way to talk to the crew, Anne made her way back down. She sat behind her desk, waiting and thinking back on the voyage.

Winds favored us to Curaçao for rum and molasses and Suriname for tea, then we lost our luck. It forced us to shelter on Cuba and then near St. Augustine. And that damned Royal Navy ship showed up. So glad to be on our way home to Hampton.

Anne cursed the new Sailing Master, Phineas Thompson. I should never ‘a’ taken that nap or trusted him. When the crew finally sighted the frigate, the Second Mate found Thompson below decks -- drunk. After rousting him, the officer pushed the groggy Sailing Master up the ladder with a sword in his hand. He had fought valiantly, Anne mused, even though quite soused.

Sailing Master Thompson knocked and she called out, “Come.” Thompson opened the door and slunk into the cabin. Raising a knuckle to his forehead, he quaked in fear.

“Mr. Thompson.” Anne stood looking out the picture window without bothering to turn. “What the hell were ye thinking?”  Slowly turning to face him, Anne’s eyes glowed a deep emerald green.

 “I’m sorry, Ma’am.” Thompson ducked as an eight-inch jack knife barely missed his ear, lodging in the door behind him. He wondered whether she’d missed on purpose. Probably.

“Sorry ain’t helping, Mr. Thompson.”

Thompson gulped. “I thought this route would be safe.” He stopped and took a deep breath.

“I told ye not to take us so close to shore, idiot. But that’s just what you did.” Anne turned and slammed a fist hard onto the charts on the table. “Ye’re confined to quarters. There’ll be a trial when we reach home.”

“In my defense, and I know it isn’t enough, I’m rather new and ….”

Anne dropped down into the desk chair. “I agree, Mr. Thompson,” she said. The Sailing Master breathed a sigh of relief that he quickly regretted. “But I trusted ye to follow my orders. I gave you the responsibility and ye failed me.”  Thompson was always surprised how well the Captain could sound like a man.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I won’t ever let it happen again.”

“No ye won’t. And neither will I.” Anne glared at him.

Thompson saluted and scurried out of the cabin.




5 May 1730 – Near Hampton, Virginia


Having safely offloaded their cargo of tea, rum and sugar, the Betsy D sailed home. When the ship was safely moored at sea just off her home harbor of Hampton, Virginia, Captain MacCormack called a consul of the crew: six officers, and twenty-five able bodied seamen.

Bo’sun Thomas Mayfield looked at the assembled crew and asked the seaman next to him, “What the hell is this all about?”

Henry Boots replied, “Captain does infractions this way. Says that since we all need each other to make the ship run, we should all agree on crimes and punishment.”

“Really?” Mayfield asked with a sneer. He had been added to the crew as Bo’sun when Anne could find no other. Lord Thomas Mayfield, fourth son of the Earl of Dunham, had been on a Royal Navy vessel until he was thrown off for inciting to mutiny, but with a letter of recommendation by a baronet named Woolrich, now in Virginia. “Isn’t that how pirates handled such things? I hear they treated everyone equally.”

Henry detected a very haughty tone in the man’s voice. “I wouldn’t know,” he said, and moved away from the Earl’s son.

Anne stood in the Foc’sl with most of the officers and some crew. She looked up at those on the Quarterdeck. “Our Sailing Master took it upon himself,” Anne began, “to set us on a bad course then get drunk. Put us all in danger.” She paused, then added, “Partly my bad judgment, but it was his responsibility nonetheless. Mr. Thompson will make his own case. That’s how we do things.” And that’s one reason my crew is loyal. “His fate is up to you. If ye want to keep ’im for our next trip, say so. If not, I’ll look among ye or around the docks for a new Sailing Master who does his duty.” She stepped back and extended an arm out to invite Thompson to step forward. He moved furtively forward, looking among the crew, many of whom scowled at him.

“I made a mistake,” he began, wringing his hands. “And we all very nearly paid the price. But we didn’t because of the skill of our Captain.” He turned and gestured towards Anne whose face remained impassive and almost hidden by the slouch hat.

“’Tis my first trip as full Sailing Master and I regret that I failed you. But I have learned and I won’t do it again. My navigation’s good and got us down to Curaçao and Suriname and back with a full cargo delivered safely and paid for. Give me a second chance, lads, and I promise as God’s my witness …” He took a deep breath then continued. “I will not drink the demon rum when my skills are needed on deck.” Thompson looked pleadingly at the other officers and crew, avoiding a glance at the Captain. “Give me another shot, boys, and I will not let you down,” he repeated. Then he bowed and backed away as Anne stepped forward.

“Flog the bastard.” A voice rang out in the ensuing pause.

The Captain’s eyes went straight to the man on the deck above. “Shut up, Mr. Mayfield. Ye may be son of an earl, but on this ship we don’t flog anyone - ever. This ain’t the Royal Fucking Navy.” Mayfield glared down at the Captain from his under his puffy eyelids as his lank brown hair blew in the wind. Anne spit. Mayfield was a hero to the youngest crew members simply because of his birthright, and disliked by most of the rest because of his haughty demeanor. Rumors abounded that he’d been telling the younger crew that Anne wasn’t qualified to be captain. Damn him. He’s an arrogant, manipulative cur, that one. I knew he’d be trouble before I even hired him.

Mayfield laughed with the able seaman standing beside him—not looking down to the captain. “Bo’sun!” Mayfield slowly turned, tipping his hat very slightly. Anne had to restrain Wilberforce from launching up the ladder to him. “Do ye have anything else ye’d like to add, Mr. Mayfield?”

“He should be punished. Peremptorily. A strong captain would see it done.” Mayfield’s upper lip curled in a sneer.

“Are ye challenging me, Bo’sun?” Mayfield didn’t move. Anne continued, “We’re all equal on this ship, from earls’ whelps to blacks who were slaves, to red Indians, to red-haired Irish bastards like me.” As the crew giggled, the Captain didn’t move. Mayfield’s acolytes were creeping away to either side. He frowned then bowed slightly, giving Anne a condescending look.

“We’ll take the vote then. Those in favor of keeping Mr. Thompson as Sailing Master, say ‘huzzah’.” Most of the crew shouted out. “Those opposed, say ‘nay’.” A few of the crew standing by Mayfield booed loudly along with the Bo’sun himself.

Anne turned to the Sailing Master. “Mr. Thompson, for now, ye’ll retain your position. But mark my words, if ye endanger this crew again, it will not go so well for ye. Yer punishment is forfeiture of one-quarter of yer shares.”

“And Mayfield.” The Captain’s hard green eyes looked up at him, “I will not tolerate insubordination on my ship. Ye will not be sailing with me again. But since we are at the end of our voyage, no punishment seems necessary.” Mayfield smirked as he made an exaggerated bow.


Thompson put knuckle to his forehead and whispered, “Thank you, Captain,” as the crowd dispersed.

Down below, Anne packed her sea bag as the Betsy D weighed anchor and headed to the dock. She wore her finest breeches, shirt and jacket. The slouch hat had been packed in favor of a tricorn with gold trim and feathers. She felt the ship stop and heard the sounds of mooring.

Climbing up the stairs, she called to Jimmie Johnson, a first voyage seaman who had done a good job, to bring up her sea bag. She gave him a pistole as a reward. A jolly boat waited beside the ship.

“I’m off, boys,” she called out. A cheer went up. Every one of them would be broke and ready for another trip in six months’ time. If I make one.

The jolly boat took Anne and her sea bag to the dock. The King’s Raven was just up the road.

The next morning Anne Bonny Burleigh, wearing her finest bodice, skirt and petticoat, left the King’s Raven and climbed into the carriage which had been waiting for her and headed for home.

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