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The Daily Aubrey-Maturin: H.M.S. Surprise (Book 3), Chapters 5-6 (pg. 977-1065)

Your daily dose of off-topic shenanigans

Voyage of HMS Challenger, Atlantic Ocean
The HMS Challenger at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago in 1870


We begin our long journey east by going west, touching the east coast of South America, then swinging around Africa, Madagascar, and in towards Bombay, our final destination. It’s a long journey, fit for two chapters, even. This is the first.

Two chapters might seem long especially as O’Brian loves a time-jump, but of course it’s nothing compared to the weeks and months spent onboard a frigate, especially if you’re not a seafaring individual, like our envoy Mr. Stanhope, who keeps a bucket nearby at all times. And things get even longer when the wind dies down, and the Surprise just has to chill in the doldrums west off of Africa, not even across the equator yet.

Some excitement, at least for Maturin, occurs when he spots St. Paul’s Rocks, and goes all Charles Darwin on them a quarter century before the real Darwin would get there in 1832. Birds and crabs and insects oh my! Oh, and also a massive and sudden thunderstorm (the archipelago is smack dab in the middle of the Intertropical Convergence Zone after all), which washes away Maturin’s boat, his boatman, the poor unfortunate Mr. Nicolls, and also the Surprise from sight. Ruh-roh!

Voyage of HMS Challenger, Atlantic Ocean


Maturin’s rescued by the Surprise, which survived the storm with just a couple injuries, but both Aubrey and Maturin realize that some in the crew are starting to show signs of scurvy, and their lime juice has spoiled a bit in the 100-degree heat and is running out anyway. The storm did replenish their fresh water stores at least.

Aubrey figures out that they won’t make it to Rio in their current state, so they look for a place along the Brazilian coast to land and trade with some locals for fresh fruit, greens, and meat, which they do. Maturin of course comes back with a sloth as well. Some comedy ensues as Jack gets the sloth drunk.

Eventually the Surprise makes it to Rio, and everyone’s quite happy — including Jack who learns that his debts back in England have now been mostly paid off.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go to India, and they have to sail further south than normal since the Dutch are once again in control of South Africa and the Cape. And this leads the Surprise into some truly rough waters, but after many days and many close calls, it finally emerges into the calm of the Indian Ocean, and, after a few more weeks of largely uneventful sailing on a ship barely holding together — she may be old, but she’s got it where it counts (in real life, the Surprise was decommissioned by this time) — they pull into Bombay.

‘John Wood Approaching Bombay’, c1850. Artist: Joseph Heard
‘John Wood Approaching Bombay’, c1850. Artist: Joseph Heard
Photo by Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images


Parting ways



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