December 10, 2016

Horse 2202 - Oddvent: Dec 10 - I Saw Three Ships

‘twas the fifteenth night before Christmas.

December 10th is the tenth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Cunard's Day, the day that St Cunard managed to not lose anyone's luggage at all, we shall now tell another story of a maritime tale involving ships.

The English fleet had been at sea for three months. The threat of Spanish invasion of Britain was always lingering and the small island nation stood all alone, like a fortress set in the sea. The French would never ally with the English, the Scots remained aloof and unpredictable and the Irish were either too weak or too unwilling to help. History would forever record more famous sea battles that were won by more flamboyant admirals but perhaps the most audacious and important battle in the grand conflict, was so small that it was mostly forgotten.

Captain Henry Lee had the helm of the rather pathetic ship, the HMS Timidity. The Timidity was aptly named as it only had an above and below deck. It was also only equipped with seventeen guns, seven down each side, one gun forward and two aft. As a small vessel, it also didn't have particularly a lot of area under sail and so most larger ships could out run it. Captain Lee had gained something of a reputation though because although he only had a small ship, he was daring enough to take it into places that most naval ships would not dare. He had to be formally told  off once by the city of Venice for sending the Timidity up one of the canals and launching a raid on the business of a linen merchant who he didn't like the cut off their jib.

December was the month that sailors hated going out to sea the most. Often the air was chilled to temperatures less than freezing and the sea would have been frozen solid if it wasn't for the incessant pounding of waves. Sailors were well aware that if they ventured too far north, icebergs could rip ships go pieces. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy was still worried about what Spain might do. They were easily the biggest superpower of all and everybody feared the Spanish Armada and nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition. The Armada's chief weapon was surprise, as indeed was everything of note in Spain.

Captain Lee and the Timidity were on a reconnaissance mission at the mouth of the Thames estuary. It was always assumed that if the Spanish were to strike, at very least  they would collect information beforehand. Lee knew that they wouldn't simply announce themselves by waltzing up the Thames but they would probably be disguised as a normal merchant ship. Lee also knew that the presence of an English Royal Navy ship sitting proudly in the middle of the Thames would more than likely scare off any potential Spanish forays and so he hid the Timidity in a quiet cove, left a longboat out in the middle of the river and positioned eight of the ship's guns on the shoreline.

Before sunrise, while the first rays of light made their way across the inky morning, one of the ship's mates saw something most singular. He saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning. Captain Lee was canny. He knew that if he simply opened fire, they would flee and so he waited for the ships to slowly pass up the river. It was only after they had passed to the west of his position that he pounced.

Sending someone on a fast horse back up the river, the order was given for the cannon on the shoreline to fire. As the light was still terrible, the Spanish ships thought that they were being pursued by a much larger flotilla when in actuality they were only being followed by one ship, two longboats and a few rowboats with bright beacons. In the confusion of the dense fog, the three Spanish ships all ran aground in sand bars and as they were stuck fast, they were unable to change the direction that their guns were pointed and were easily overcome and boarded.

And 'what was in those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?' you might ask. The ploy had been a relatively simple one. The open deck had been empty and the deck immediately below was entirely filled with statues of Catholic iconography; the Virgin Mary and Christ were there on Christmas Day in the morning but in the very lowest deck, it was stacked full of cannon shot, gunpowder and the ship's cannons.

Captain Henry Lee was declared a hero and was promoted to the rank of Admiral but he declined the role of being in charge of anything more than a single ship. He would perform his job as Admiral Lee as he had done before.

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