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The Daily Aubrey-Maturin: Master and Commander (Book 1), Chapters 7-9 (pg. 194-295)

Your daily dose of off-topic shenanigans.

Landscape of the Costa Blanca.
Cape Nao on the Costa Blanca in Alicante Province, Spain
Photo by: Vacheron A/Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


The Sophie reaches Cape Nao on the coast of Spain (the bit that juts out south of Valencia), the western end of their patrol route. The men are getting a little better at firing the cannons, and can now get off three broadsides in just six minutes (before it took them well over three minutes just to get one round). Practice does make perfect!

And that comes in handy when they happen upon a convoy of five ships. They chase off the escort and capture a couple, but a third, with valuable quicksilver (i.e. mercury, not Pietro Maximoff) on board seeks the protection of the nearby fort at Moraira. Undeterred, Aubrey devises a plan that would make even Lt. Winters proud, sending Dillon with the Sophie to occupy the fort from the sea, while he sneaks ashore with four boats to take the fort on foot. And by take I mean blow it up — though the reserves of gunpowder in the fort were bigger than anticipated, resulting in Aubrey burning off half his face and hair. RACHELLLLL!!!

Aubrey may look a bit of a mess, but he’s now earned the respect of Dillon, who had earlier expressed reservations about his captain’s bravery. Awww...

(NB. In real life, the fort at Moraira was never blown up, though was “badly damaged” by the British fleet on July 20, 1801.)

But Aubrey and Dillon’s bromance is short-lived, though that’s no fault of either. The Sophie, having stopped to refresh its water stores, runs into a couple higher-ranking friendlies, who order Aubrey to join them in their search for escaped Irish rebels. Of course, it’s the Sophie who finds the ship they’re searching for, and with Maturin off on a vision quest in Catalonia (he got dropped off when they were filling up on fresh water), it’s (former rebel) Dillon who gets sent over to locate the two (fellow) rebels in question. Dillon lets them go, reporting back to Aubrey that they were not on board. But this encounter shakes Dillon to his core, and he becomes more distant from the captain afterwards. (Much to the delight of Mr. Marshall, the ship’s master, who harbors some unrequited romantic feelings for his captain.)


With their sidequest thus finished, Aubrey maroons 50 prisoners on an island near Menorca and gets back to his original assignment of harassing and capturing enemy ships. (The prisoners were thrust upon them by the two higher-ranking friendly war ships, but the Sophie didn’t have the resources to keep them fed and they didn’t want to return to port just yet, so Aubrey chose this less than honorable course of action. He would later use this excuse to explain himself to Admiral Keith, and get away with it.)

But first, they go back to their watering spot and pick up Maturin, who doesn’t dissuade their notion that he was visiting with a ladyfriend, when in all actuality he was just having some time to be alone, away from the ship ... and also pick up a crucial bit of information while blending in with the locals, as fate would have it.

Turns out that the ships they captured earlier all belonged to Keyser Soze, and he’s now quite upset. So much so, that he’s hired an entire warship to go after the Sophie. And it’s not just any warship, it’s a 32-gun xebec frigate named Cacafuego, which I presume is what happens in your pants when you see it. Yes, I’m talking about explosive diarrhea. Sh*t on fire indeed. (That’s 32 18-pound cannons. The Sophie has 14 4-pound cannons.)

Aubrey decides to disguise his ship, repainting it yellow, rejigging the sails, and tasking one of his quartermasters, who’s from Denmark, to pretend to be their Danish captain if they come across another warship. And that’s precisely how they manage to survive their first encounter with Taco Bell. Well that, and Maturin asking the would-be boarding party if they had any doctor with them who could help treat people with symptoms of the plague. The boarding party beats a hasty retreat and the Sophie escapes — for now — and returns, exhausted and spent, to port.


After the drama of the past two chapters, we’re into smoother waters, as Aubrey’s next assignment sees the Sophie run across the Mediterranean, all the way to Alexandria in Egypt. It’s an uneventful cruise, but Maturin’s excited to be seeing the world and all its natural wonders, flora, and fauna, even if he’s not allowed to stop along the way and explore.

The journey back is a bit more exciting, as the Sophie runs into a French 45-gun man-o’-war. They try to run, but young Henry Ellis, who had just joined them for this voyage (as a tryout) at the request of some aristocrats, falls overboard at the worst possible time. Aubrey decides to stop and rescue him (with Maturin then resuscitating him by blowing tobacco smoke into his lungs — hurray 18th Century medicine!), but that allows the other ship to catch up.

Thankfully, night had fallen by then, which allows the Sophie to escape, with Aubrey pulling off the decoy trick that was also seen in the “Master and Commander” movie: putting a lantern on a boat and casting that off from the main ship like a flare. The French ship blows the little boat to smithereens with great gusto, as the Sophie slips away into the darkness.





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