George Granger paced the deck of the monstrous ship of the line, enjoying having the leeward side to himself, which was a rarity on the crowded flagship.As custom dictated, the senior officer on deck was entitled to pace leeward side, so if Captain Grey or Captain Troubridge had been on deck, he would have had to relinquish that side of the deck to them.It went without saying that he would also vacate his spot if their lord and master, Admiral Lord St. Vincent, were to appear.Granger smiled to himself, thinking of how everyone on board would steer clear of him anyway, such that when he arrived, it had the impact of sending men all but running in the opposite direction.
Granger had traveled out to the Channel with St. Vincent when he assumed command of the Channel Fleet.For that trip, they’d been conveyed by HMS Namur, an old ship named for an old battle.She’d been launched in 1756, and was one of those crank, 90-gun ships-of-the-line that sailed with all the grace of a log floating on the water.Granger had not been surprised when St. Vincent had immediately transferred to this ship.
His Britannic Majesty’s ship of the line Ville de Paris was a true modern masterpiece.Launched in 1795, she packed 110 guns into her 190 foot long and 53 foot wide hull, making her four feet longer and two feet wider than HMS Victory, the last three-decker Granger had served in.She had cost almost 80,000 pounds to build, and carried a nominal crew of some 850 men.She was a good sailer, with characteristics more similar to her 74-gun consorts than to the ponderous Namur, although not as nimble as the Commerce de Marseilles had been.
Some may have found it odd that Britain, after spending some 80,000 pounds to build this massive ship, would have given her a French name, but she shared her name with the Comte de Grasse’s flagship, which was captured at the Battle of the Saintes in 1783.That unfortunate ship had foundered after the battle, so this ship had been named to commemorate her capture.Britain had captured quite a few French battleships, but capturing a French first rate was a rare and laudable achievement, one commemorated in the name of this ship. Some said naming a ship after a worthy foe was done to honor that foe, but Granger suspected that at least in this case, it had more to do with taunting the enemy.
As much as Granger admired this ship, and as much as he respected his commander in chief, this was not a pleasant assignment.Captain Grey, St. Vincent’s perennial flag captain, was in command of the Ville de Paris, while Sir Thomas Troubridge served as St. Vincent’s Captain of the Fleet.Granger had a good relationship with both of those men, although Troubridge could be challenging to work with.He was very rigid and conservative in his views, and could almost be as imperious as the chief he worked for.The officers on board this ship were a good enough lot, although Granger did not notice any who seemed to be truly exceptional.
In any event, it wasn’t the men in this ship that had caused him so much vexation; it was the men in the other ships, the captains and flag officers in the Channel Fleet.When St. Vincent had arrived to take command, his second in command, Sir Alan Gardner, had been so incensed that he had declined to cooperate with St. Vincent.He had evidently felt it was his right to assume command after Lord Bridport stepped down, and had shown his displeasure by being incredibly obstinate and difficult.He had even refused to share the Channel Fleet’s signal books.Granger had been dispatched to reason with Gardner, but having dealt with him during the Spithead mutiny, he had been sure he’d have little success.His skepticism had been correct as he had achieved little, and Gardner had found himself sent home just a fortnight ago.
The captains were no less enamored of their new commander in chief.St. Vincent had taken out the book containing the standing orders he’d issued in the Mediterranean and he’d reissued those orders, one by one, to the Channel Fleet.That had caused a furor, less by the captains who were smart enough not to directly defy their admiral, but by their wives, who objected to St. Vincent’s rules forbidding the captains from going farther than three miles from their landing point.Equally irritating to these captains was an order forbidding them from sleeping ashore.Granger knew that St. Vincent’s primary purpose for this order was to spare the seamen and marines who would invariably have to wait for their captain in an open boat, sometimes overnight, but the captains did not view it in the same light.St. Vincent was also adamant that each captain be on deck during fleet maneuvers, and while this was not resented as badly, it was still annoying to these men who had found their relatively easy existence under Lord Bridport quite disrupted by Lord St. Vincent.
Granger’s keen senses detected a change, something that pulled him out of his introspective daze.He stopped in the middle of his walk and strode directly to the binnacle.
“Looks to be dropping, my lord,” the Master said respectfully.
“Indeed it does,” Granger agreed.He glanced up at the forming clouds.“Please inform Captain Grey.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” the Master said dubiously.It was not necessarily enough of a change to inform the captain, but Granger had a feeling about this weather, and he’d learned to trust his instincts where the sea was concerned.
Usually St. Vincent was on deck at this time of day, but as he was not, and as it was near the time they would dine together, Granger went below to the Admiral’s cabin.Success and prize money had combined to give St. Vincent the means to outfit himself in luxurious style, and meals with him were usually quite good, although Granger missed the more continental flair of his own personal chef, Lefavre.
He found the admiral seated behind his desk, with two secretaries in attendance.“By God, the next time these popinjays decide to have a dinner and conspire behind my back, I’ll put the fleet through maneuvers just to foil their plans!” his voice boomed.St. Vincent hated it when his captains visited each other, as he was convinced they used those meetings to gossip about him, and possibly even to conspire to cause him problems in London.
“Aye aye, my lord,” one of the secretaries said.They’d learned how to deal with their irascible chief by now, and they recognized that he was venting to them, not at them.
“Granger, look at this!” St Vincent shouted, waiving a piece of paper.“The good captains of this fleet are upset that I will not allow them leave to spend the night ashore!”
“I suspect they will adapt to your ways in good time, sir,” Granger said, with a slight smile.“It appears that we are in for a gale.”Granger wasn’t entirely sure the weather would get that bad, but it served to distract St. Vincent.
“A gale, you say?” he demanded.He looked out the stern windows, which were facing away from the incoming storm front.“According to whom?”
“It is merely my assessment, sir, but the glass is dropping,” Granger told him.
“So now you are a weather sage as well?” St Vincent asked rhetorically.“Well, let us dine before Lord Granger’s storm disrupts our meal.”
“Whether I am correct or not about the gale, sir, I have at least achieved my primary goal, and that was assuring myself of having a hot meal,” Granger joked, getting a slight grin from St. Vincent.
“Well while we’re preparing to feed you, Granger, let’s go up on deck and see about this storm you’ve conjured up,” St. Vincent said.Granger paused to have one of the secretaries send for Troubridge, then followed St. Vincent up to the quarterdeck.The old admiral did so with a bit of difficulty, so badly had the rheumatism impacted his knees that walking up the ladder took him some time.“Damn rheumatism.”
“Perhaps Mr. Roberts can rig something up to repair your knees just as he did for the knees in Valiant, sir,” Granger joked.
“I’m still not convinced those new-fangled iron contraptions are a good solution,” he grumbled.
“As I was unable to extract new knees from the dockyard, I would submit they were an adequate compromise, sir,” Granger said.
“Hmph,” St. Vincent said.“Damned dockyards are so corrupt, they probably had a whole store of knees, they were just waiting for the right bribe.”St. Vincent had expressed his complete disdain for the dockyards several times, and if he were to be believed, one would assume they were the root of all the evil in the realm.
“I can assure you that my penury was not the reason for their unwillingness to replace them, sir,” Granger said.St. Vincent scowled at him, but then turned his attention to the weather.Grey and Troubridge had both arrived on deck prior to the admiral, thanks to a different ladder and their more youthful exuberance.
“Granger says we’re in for a blow,” St. Vincent declared.Granger frowned briefly, chiding himself for making such a bold statement about the weather.He usually kept his opinions to himself, and in that way he could avoid being publicly wrong.
“Shall we order the fleet to Torbay, my lord?” Troubridge joked.
“Storm or no storm, we shall weather it,” St. Vincent pronounced.“I see nothing that would indicate immediate danger.I will be below.Notify me if the weather changes.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Grey said.
St. Vincent led Granger and Troubridge down to his cabin, and there they indulged in a very large meal.Granger was irked that the gale seemed to be taunting them, as if to lull them into complacency, but he chose to focus on eating, judging that he would be able to store up some internal reserves in the event that he was right.It was as they were finishing dinner that the skies got considerably darker, and the seas began to rise precipitously.“Looks like your gale may materialize after all, Granger.”
“Yes, sir,” Granger said.“I have pulled in a few chits with the good Lord so as not to be wrong.”
“Let us see you use those chits in the future for good instead of evil,” St. Vincent said.
Grey entered the cabin, his hat under his arm in the universal salute that Nelson had all but instituted in the Navy.“My lord, the winds are rising.Permission to heave to.”
“Let us go up on deck,” St. Vincent pronounced.And so they climbed the ladder again, up to the quarterdeck, and found the situation to be much different than the last time.
“Glass is still dropping, my lord,” the Master said.
“Very well,” St. Vincent said.“Heave to.Signal the fleet.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Grey said.Troubridge worked with the flag lieutenant and within minutes, the entire Channel Fleet hove to in perfect unison.Their precautions did not slow the storm, but merely seemed to encourage it.They stayed on deck, St. Vincent and his staff along with all the senior officers of Ville de Paris, swaying as the waves grew bigger and the motion of the ship increased.
After a few hours, Dr. Baird appeared.“My lord,” he shouted into St. Vincent’s ear.“You must go below.”
“I will see us through this storm,” St. Vincent decreed.
“I would submit, my lord, that these gentlemen can inform you of any changes,” Baird insisted.He was a unique individual, in that he was one of the few men from whom St. Vincent would tolerate any contradiction.Baird was paid by St. Vincent, and not the Admiralty, yet he still served as the defacto chief physician to the fleet.The Medical Board was unhappy about that, the other surgeons were unhappy about that, but it was how St. Vincent wanted things, so that’s how things were established.
“Very well,” St. Vincent said.He went below, while they others stayed on deck.
“A dry scarf, my lord,” Winkler said, swapping out the wet thing Granger had been wearing with one that was miraculously dry.
“Thank you, Winkler,” Granger said.Winkler took the wet scarf below, and Granger refocused on the storm and the fleet.
The waves were strangely erratic, creating odd movements, one of which was so strong it made Troubridge stumble.When someone with his seasoned sea legs could be so discommoded, it was a large wave indeed.
“Sir!” shouted a seaman, pointing aft.All heads turned to look aft, just as a massive wave slammed into the stern of the ship.The giant battleship shuddered, and the crashing waves were augmented by other crashing sounds aboard the ship.
“Go below and see if anything has carried away!” Grey shouted to his first lieutenant.The man nodded and rushed below, while the others focused on the fleet battling the storm.
A familiar face appeared in front of Granger.“Here with another dry scarf?” Granger joked.
“Nothing dry below at all, my lord,” Winkler said.“That wave knocked the stern windows out of His Lordship’s cabin.”
That announcement got stunned looks from the other officers, looks which faded when a furious St. Vincent came storming up onto the deck.He was soaked to the skin.“The bloody stern windows just caved in from that wave!”
“I am sorry, my lord,” Grey said, horrified that his ship had proven herself to be deficient.
“Damned dockyards!” St. Vincent scowled.
“Shall we try and head for Torbay, my lord?” Troubridge asked.
“Torbay be damned!” St. Vincent shouted.“We are here to keep the French bottled up, and I’ll not let some errant seawater dissuade me from that task.”