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The Voyage of the Pleiades: At Sea
Hello folks, it’s been awhile. The Voyage of the Pleiades is circulating with agents and I have been wallowing in the amorphous life of an author in the query process. Fortunately for me I have a sequel to work on. My characters will embark on new adventures, in new lands, which means research. Lots of marvelous research.
As we wait to see what happens next with The Voyage of the Pleiades, I thought I would share a bit more about The Cormorant, the ship that transports the naturalists and crew from Portsmouth to Chile. (Special bonus to the bird nerds who got the inside joke regarding the name of the ship: The Cormorant. Hint: they aren’t called cormorants in England). I hope you enjoy this longer excerpt from the novel and a deep dive into the inspiration behind The Cormorant.
Voyage of the Pleiades Chapter Excerpt: Departure on The Cormorant
19 December 1885
The morning of our departure from Portsmouth was dim and sodden from a drenching winter rain. I stood on the top deck swaddled in my heavy waxed cloak observing the final passengers being ferried in the gig to our anchorage. The sea swelled and tossed the small craft as it crept toward the ship.
I had been residing on The Cormorant for more than a week, with Captain Hastings and a skeleton crew. Our days were occupied with reviewing our stocks, the arrangement of crew and naturalists, and the minutiae that would keep us a functioning floating village. A contented focus had settled upon me leading up to our departure. Marking off the details on my various lists increased the confidence I had in myself and our expedition. Since I had come aboard, I had not had time to revel in the excitement and anticipation of setting off. Today, for the first time, my heart fluttered in my chest at the exhilaration of embarking on our adventure.
The schedule for the next few hours was to meet with my naturalists for a briefing, join the crew for a meal and then Captain Hastings would steer us out on the evening tide. As the final gig was secured, I crossed the deck to the naturalist’s shed. Once the naturalist crew was settled, they would gather in the shed on the deck, so I could familiarize them with the layout and briefly discuss what we could expect on our journey.
I vigorously shook off the hood of my cloak and entered the work room. The clear panes in the roof did not provide much illumination with the deluge outside. Several lamps had been lit and it made for a warm, cozy refuge.
I was surprised to find that someone was currently occupying the space. Matias Ward was bent over a stack of books and was so absorbed that he did not move when I entered.
“Hello, Mr. Ward, how do you find our small library? Will it be adequate?”
His face was in shadow as he glanced up and he scrambled to his feet, scraping the chair along the floor.
“My apologizes, Lady…damn, Linnea. I did not hear you enter. I believe that alone is evidence as to the quality of the library. I found a few your monographs are here as well.”
“Not out of vanity I assure you. There are few accounts for the areas where are traveling. My observations from Brazil and Colombia may be useful for the naturalists that have not been to South America.”
I brushed past him to see what he had been reading, it was my account from Brazil. The page was open to an illustration I had made of an avocado. I traced my finger around the drawing of the fruit.
“I am looking forward to the foods we will procure once we reach more tropical climes. The rain today also makes me long for the heat, although my pleasure in that will be short lived.”
He chuckled at my observation.
“You mentioned that you had been to the Southern Hemisphere; I assume you have traveled to South America on previous voyages?”
“I have not,” He replied, “the closest I have been to South America is Trinidad.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. “Trinidad is as close to South America as one can get without setting foot on that actual land mass.”
He appeared reticent to expand on the subject, so I didn’t push him. The lull was not unpleasant, we studied the pages he had open on the desk in front of him. I considered asking him about the details Hugh had shared about his family, but I recognized that now was not the time or place for that topic. The rest of the naturalists would arrive at any moment. He glanced at me and then returned to the books.
“I wanted to thank you again, for coming to my defense at the ball.”
I waved my hand in the air.
“Please, say nothing more, your thanks are not necessary.” I took a breath to ask a question about his stepmother, but at that moment the door opened, and a loud group of oceanographers entered the room. It was time to assume the role of expedition leader. I shared a private smile with Matias and made my way to the ebullient group.
I stood as tall as possible, resting my hands on the small of my back and looked from one individual to another. Of course, they were all men, most of them wealthy men that had never had to veer from their pursuit of adventure to earn money. Hugh and I usually insisted that at least one of our naturalist crew break this mold. In addition to Matias Ward, I had selected a young oceanographer who had recently sold his commission in the British Army to pursue scientific endeavors. Mr. Alfred Shaw’s face glowed in excitement to be departing and I hoped his enthusiasm rubbed off on his jaded colleagues.
“Good evening gentlemen. I wanted to make a few remarks before we gather with the rest of the crew for the evening meal. Most of you have been on an enterprise of this kind previously, but none of you have traveled with me. I want to make clear my expectations. I expect you to respect each other as well as the crew of this ship. All members of the crew will be treated as your equal, if word reaches me that your behavior towards the crew is anything other than courteous, you will be dropped at the next port. Likewise, when we reach port, please be circumspect in your behavior. I recognize that being in port offers a host of temptations, I will not act in the role of your mother. I also expect that you will not do anything to put this endeavor in danger. I am available to you during the day to discuss your research aims, questions regarding our route or anything else related to our voyage. Please direct your questions to me and not to Captain Hastings. I prefer to reserve my evening hours for the research and planning of my botanical surveys on Chiloé. Are there any questions you wish to be addressed at this time?”
I rocked on my heels and waited for their responses. Over the years the responses had varied from silent to belligerent. Hugh and I had carefully considered each of these men, so I was hopeful they would not disappoint. Mr. Shaw stepped forward. I couldn’t help but grin at his eagerness.
“Yes, Mr. Shaw?”
He wobbled in an awkward bow. “Miss Wren could I arrange a time to meet with you tomorrow to review my study plan?”
“Of course, Shaw, feel free to call me Wren. We are equals on this ship.”
I sent a challenging glance to the rest of the naturalists, not a one flinched. Excellent. Shaw’s query unleashed them, and the hands popped in the air. Their questions ranged from the specifics of our route to accommodations, to arranging time to meet. I cut our gathering short when the meal bell vibrated the boards beneath our feet, and everyone cheerfully filed out.
It was past midnight when I finally retired for the evening and returned to my cabin. We were underway. I stood next to Captain Hastings as we cast off the lines and he steered the bow into the pull of the tide. I remembered the reassuring warmth of Uncle Liam’s large palm enclosing my small hand when we sailed from the harbor on that first voyage.
On that trip we departed from Glasgow and looped down the west coast of Ireland. We had extraordinarily good weather and dolphins frolicked in the bow wave the entire distance along the Irish coast. I was enchanted. Even being so young, I knew then there was no other life for me except for one at sea. Whenever I initially set out on a voyage, I keenly felt the loss of Uncle Liam. I opened a fresh bottle of whisky, tipped some into a glass and raised it in silent toast to his memory.
The H.M.S. Challenger and the deep ocean
The layout and journey of The Cormorant is inspired by the 1872 to 1876 journey of the H.M.S. Challenger. The main objective of the H.M.S Challenger was to collect samples and map the ocean floor. The results of their measurements and collections are still being used today. Reading through the accounts and studying the plans of the H.M.S Challenger gave me a better understanding of what it might have been like to live and work onboard a scientific expedition ship in the late 19th century. In homage to the H.M.S. Challenger there are naturalists on my ship making deep ocean collections.
Zoological Laboratory on H.M.S. challenger. The Royal Society outfitted this laboratory with a small library, hundreds of miscellaneous scientific instrument and "spirits" of wine for preserving specimens. (Credit: University of California, San Diego). From: H.M.S Challenger: Humanity’s First Real Glimpse of Deep Oceans.
If you would like to learn more about the H.M.S Challenger here are some links to check out.
The book has been submitted to agents, now there is nothing to do but wait.
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Copyright © 2021 Amy Marie Turner, All rights reserved.
Photos by David W. Shaw and Amy Turner except where noted.