Fishing for Gold – An excerpt from Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

GM-Cvr6

 

Oakracoke Island, December, 1716

To the south of his position, Teach scanned the coast for any sign of the Spanish wrecks. Over the past two days he had twice covered nearly thirty leagues of coastline and found nothing. He’d begun to wonder if the entire story was a fabrication, something made up by the conspiratorial little Spaniard, Jorge Rodreguez, a ruse intended to save his own miserable skin. According to Henri, there had been no word from the man he called Daniel Carnes, to inform them that the fleet had sailed from Havana and, now, there was no evidence to be found anywhere along the coast, of any wrecked fleet, or salvage operation.

His own crew were looking at him odd-like, as they had for some time now. They were becoming restless with this picketing of the coast line in search of salvage. Teach could feel them turning against him, taking up with Israel Hands, who was ever busy stirring opposition. Israel had turned out a conniving bastard that stood in open opposition to him, taking Caesar’s part when they’d disagreed about the assault on St. Augustine. He and Israel would have it out one day for sure, but for now, Hands was the best damn gunners mate in all the sea and Teach needed him aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge; she being the heaviest armed of all their ships. Hands had been unhappy to give up command of Grace a Dieu, but he was of more value here, aboard the Queen. Bonnet had taken command of the smaller frigate and now had disappeared for unknown purpose. Teach scanned the sandy coastline, north of The Cape, once more before folding the glass and commanding his second, “Bring’er about and take a heading, North, fer St. Augustine.”

That evening, as the sun began to set, Grande Maronage raised anchor. Taking advantage of an off-shore breeze, Henri sailed north from a prominent, shoreline feature called the “Bleach Yard”, where Teach was meant to meet up with them. He never showed and now Henri was concerned about what his impetuous friend might be up to. He put on as much sail as he could, in the hope of intercepting Queen Anne’s Revenge before Teach could foolishly attempt a frontal attack on St. Augustine. Teach had made more than clear his wrath over being out-voted on the issue, and his opposition to salvage operations. Henri cited the boldness of Jennings attacks on the camp at Bara de Ays as the type of operation he was proposing, not salvage, but Teach, always concerned for growing his reputation, argued for an assault on the Spanish port at St. Augustine instead.

After the vote went against him, he’d ranted, “That’s whot we shoulda done! That’s whot we could do now if my mates weren’t such lilly-livered cowards!”

After saying his piece, he stormed off the deck and disappeared into his cabin, depositing himself in the care of his whores, who now sailed with him wherever he went, along with a staff of captive, French surgeons.

Though Grande Maronage sailed up the coast with greater speed, they never sighted Teach’s ship. When they arrived off the coast of St. Augustine, they tacked back and forth all through the night and part of the next day, but somehow missed him.

When dawn broke on the fourth day from departing La Creek, Teach aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge and his fleet, including, Grace a Dieu, Ranger, and La Madiera, under command of the Rackham, with the French crew, sailed through the inlet at St. Augustine with the rising sun glaring behind them. Ahead, more than a league distant, to the west, and blending into the surrounding landscape, the fortress San Marcos was virtually invisible to Teach, as he thought he was to it, until the first puffs of white smoke exploded from her battlements. Soon after the thunder of her defenses reached their ears, a fusilade of heavy shot sent towering geysers of water exploding into the sky just ahead of the ship. Though none hit the mark, the Castille now had his range.

There was no room to maneuver in the narrow channel, shallows occupied both sides such that the only choice was to sail closer to the Castille’s guns in order to present his broadside. Teach commanded the helm to remain steady on course. He ordered Israel to load the full compliment of starboard guns and open the ports, but before he could finish issuing his command another explosion of white smoke spewed from the battlements of the Castile, as before, followed by the thunderous roar of her heavy guns. The geysers lofted closer this time, but still short of target. Teach shouted to the men aloft. “Where’s water?”

“Ahead sir. Half a league.” Came the answer.

“I need depth!” He bellowed.

As two of the crew scrambled for lead lines,Teach looked aft, where his fleet were already deserting him, being better able to maneuver in the narrow channel, they were going about. Although he was furious over it, he managed to contain himself for the moment. He would deal with them later, but right now he could see, among the profusion of spars in the harbor, that sail was being readied on a number of fast ships. He would soon have smaller, more maneuverable war ships in pursuit of his lumbering frigate, like wolves surrounding a pig. To venture another half league into the inlet and then try to maneuver would be certain suicide.

“All Hands, make sail!” He bellowed with a voice that might have been heard on the battlements of the still distant Castile.

“Gills!” He called to his first mate. “Tie off the port anchor at a hundred yards and stand by for my command!”

Then turning to the helmsman he commanded in a calmer voice, “Bring’er to the starboard side of the channel and hold her steady there.”

For a moment the shouting of men, the clatter of the rigging and the loud pop of sail taking the wind could be heard aboard the ship, then another explosion of white smoke from the Castile.

“Stand by to go about!” Teach hollered, almost unheard over the roar of canon fire. Heavy shot pounded the channel, this time on both sides of the ship. They had found her range, but, only by good luck and the blinding sun, they missed and had to take the time to reload. In that small window of time, Teach took action that surprised them all, commanding in a voice so loud that it echoed back from shore.

“Roll out your guns and fire when ready, Mr. hands!” Then, shouting forward, to the bow, he commanded, “Mr. Gills, drop the anchor!”

Gills, ever the good sailor never questioned the command, as odd as it sounded, but jumped to the task.

“Hard to port, Mr. Brooks!” Teach commanded the helm, then shouting to the crew aloft, “Ready about, gentlemen, rig your sails!”

At that, a rapid series of events took place aboard Queen Anne. The ship’s anchor splashed into the channel and quickly sunk to the bottom. While the anchor line ran out for a short hundred yards, the ship began a hard turn to port. When the anchor grabbed hold, the ship lurched so that men aloft were nearly thrown from the rigging. The ship literally spun one hundred eighty degrees on its axis. It spun so quickly and with such force that it misaligned the guns which had already been rolled out. Israel Hands and his men never got the chance to fire a single shot. Unaware of the pending maneuver, there was chaos on the gun deck, where most of the men were thrown down and some were seriously injured, crushed by the by the movement of the heavy guns.

In the rigging above, everyone managed to hold on till the ship righted itself, then they quickly rigged for the new wind direction. As the ship recovered and began to respond to her helm, Teach hollered forward, “Mr. Gills! If you would be so kind as to cut that anchor line, sir.”

It was a risky, but ingenious maneuver. By the time the Castile was able to fire their next volley, Queen Anne’s Revenge was once again out of range.

The coastal breeze freshened once they cleared the inlet. Teach and the fleet made a turn to the northeast, heading out to sea well before the Spaniards were able to get a single ship underway. Although it concerned him that they could easily catch him, at sea, his superior fire power would be their demise. The wolves might catch the pig, but they would lose their lives trying to take him down.

Late that morning the watch aloft spotted a lone sail shadowing their course, sailing to the northwest of their position, out of range of their guns, but over the next hour it drew steadily closer. When it had drawn close enough, Teach took a look through his glass and found that It was Henri with his crew aboard Grande Maronage. Teach remained steady on course, adding more sail, not daring to heave to, for fear the hornet’s nest he had stirred in St. Augustine would soon overtake them. Neither of the ships had signal flags aboard, nor any who knew how to use them, so they sailed within sight of each other for the next few days, until they reached the narrow inlet at Oakracoke Island.

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