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The Daily Aubrey-Maturin: Desolation Island (Book 5), Chapters 6-7 (pg. 1738-1798)

Your daily dose of off-topic shenanigans

Ship In A Storm
Ship In A Storm (Painting by Thomas Birch, 1841)
Photo by The New York Historical Society/Getty Images


The Leopard departs Recife and continues south, but while the news of the Dutch man-of-war Waakzaamheid being about has reinvigorated the ship and the men’s sense of purpose, the typhus outbreak has reduced their numbers by over 100, and they’re in no condition to take on the bigger ship (50 vs 74 guns, 300+ men vs 600, at full capacity). Not even Aubrey likes those odds, at least not until he can refit at the Cape.

Fortunately, the journey soon becomes mundane again, with the daily routine taking over — minus the part where the three women prisoners continue to cause concern in their own ways: the fortune-teller by talking about a ghost on the ship, Mrs Wogan by being hot and mysterious (Herapath confesses to Stephen about their prior relationship, though of course he had already figured all that out), and the third, Peggy, by being rather promiscuous and (probably) causing seven cases of syphilis. Oopsies!

But things are hardly ever mundane for too long in the world of Aubrey-Maturin, and sure enough, the Leopard runs into the Waakzaamheid in the great wide expanse of the Southern Atlantic. The two ships exchange fire at a distance, causing but Aubrey has a slight speed advantage and hopes to slip away in the night...


...but he’s not able to. And he’s not able to slip away the next night, or the night after, or the night after. It’s a bit like the movie “The Duel”, the Waakzaamheid always appearing on the horizon at dawn, sometimes a bit closer, sometimes a bit farther, but always sitting to the east, between the Leopard and the Cape.

Aubrey decides to keep pushing south, into the “roaring forties” and here he eventually manages to lose the Dutch warship and turn east, though not before repelling one sneaky boarding attempt (the other ship launching boats in the night to try to circle around)

But the opposition continues to maintain an almost telepathic ability to guess what Aubrey will do next and a few days later, here they are again, and now they are on the chase — the stern chase that inspired the similar scene in the movie, though with the roles reversed. Here, Aubrey’s the one running, trying not to get boarded.

As the seas get rougher, Aubrey thinks he has escaped again — cannot attempt to board in such weather — however, the Waakzaamheid now has murder on its mind and starts firing at the Leopard, trying to hit sails and rudder to disable and sink it. Aubrey has no choice but to start firing back. But the Waakzaamheid is bigger, stronger, faster and he’s almost onto them and the next shot surely will be fatal ... except it’s the Leopard that strikes lucky, hitting the foremast and stranding the warship in between two massive swell, yawing dangerously and getting overwhelmed by the second wave.

“My God, oh my God,” Aubrey said. “Six hundred men.”





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