Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars

Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars

4.8 14
by Jay Worrall

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Dientes de Diablo, 1797

With his first historical high-seas adventure chronicling the exploits of Naval Commander Charles Edgemont, Jay Worrall sets sail in the rousing tradition of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian.
The year is 1797. Napoleon Buonaparte is racking up impressive wins in the field against the enemies of


Dientes de Diablo, 1797

With his first historical high-seas adventure chronicling the exploits of Naval Commander Charles Edgemont, Jay Worrall sets sail in the rousing tradition of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian.
The year is 1797. Napoleon Buonaparte is racking up impressive wins in the field against the enemies of revolutionary France. On the seas, England is putting up a staunch resistance.

When a modest fleet of British ships off the coast of Portugal encounters a larger force of Spanish vessels on their way to rendezvous with the French, the English are quick to seize the opportunity for a victory–even at the risk of a calamitous defeat.

Twenty-five-year-old Charles Edgemont is second lieutenant aboard the HMS Argonaut, the smallest ship in the British line of battle. When orders come for the Argonaut to engage in an all-but-suicidal maneuver to cut off the escape of the Spanish ships, he leads his gun crews bravely–until the death of the captain and the first lieutenant elevates him to command of the stricken vessel. In the chaos that follows, his defiant refusal to yield under enemy fire earns him a permanent promotion.

Thanks to the purse awarded him by the Admiralty after the fight, Charles is wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. But there are challenges when he returns home after years at sea. His newfound riches will prove no help when it comes to winning the heart of Penelope Brown, the feisty Quaker with whom Charles falls in love. Even more of a hindrance is his profession, for Penelope regards war as sinful and soldiers as little better than murderers.

Changing Penelope’s mind may just be the hardest battle Charles has ever fought–at least until fresh orders send him back to sea, where he faces a more traditional and equally formidable adversary in a series of stirring battles of will and might.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Intrepid hero Charles Edgemont does battle with the French and their allies during the Napoleonic Wars in Worrell's competent debut. A lowly lieutenant for a few pages, Charles is quickly elevated to master of the outdated Argonaut as she's ordered to sacrifice herself in an attempt to stall the Spanish fleet. Stall them he does, and the prize money he gets makes him wealthy just in time to help his destitute brother. Charles is promoted, buys land and is given his own ship, but not before he takes over temporary command of a brig, whips her slovenly crew into shape and captures more prizes while patrolling the Irish Sea. Meanwhile, a pretty Quaker neighbor is succumbing to Charles's charms as readily as enemy ships succumb to his strategies. Aboard his new frigate, Louisa, Charles has several bloody encounters with the larger Spanish vessel, Santa Brigida, each more harrowing than the last. Although well executed and demonstrating Worrall's expertise in ship and sea warfare history, the plot runs too smoothly to be satisfying. Charles never stumbles, never runs afoul of anyone or anything. Handsome, charming, self-confident beyond the telling of it, he handily defeats veteran seamen, takes enormous chances and is always rewarded for his audacity and impetuousness. Readers will root for him, but he's no Horatio Hornblower. Agent, Al Hart. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A slack-sailed voyage into waters well charted by C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. When the captain of HMS Argonaut is blasted from his quarterdeck, Charles Edgemont is thrust into command. He entertains existential doubts over whether he'll be able to stand up to Spanish shot, but Edgemont is not found wanting, even though "arms, legs, heads were ripped away or left dangling by thin strips of flesh" all around him. Now new troubles dog him; Edgemont worries about whether the pressures of command will make him as frigid and aloof as his unfortunate predecessor, and, later, flush with success, he worries about what to do with all the prize money ("He tried to calculate the one-quarter share that was the ship's captain's due in his head, couldn't get it right exactly, but knew that it was a very large sum"). Debut novelist Worrall works the standard tropes of the fighting-men-and-tall-ships genre while bringing such postmodern, sensitive-leader matters into play, and if the prose is flat and the storyline predictable, Edgemont's adventures on the high seas, now at a higher rank and astride different boards, are suitably action-packed to hold the reader's interest. While having all those adventures, Edgemont finds new worries along with all the accomplishments and booty: Should he marry the Quaker girl down the lane? Should he indulge in the self-serving politics of the officer class? Resolutions ensue as our hero takes his well-fitted frigate out to sea and chases the blasted Spanish foe, wrestling with more immediate preoccupations ("He was beginning to worry that the Santa Brigada would refuse battle") until he finally catches up with the enemy in a set-piece battle that ends with thepromise of a sequel to come. Aubrey and Hornblower need not worry; this newcomer won't blow them out of the water. Still, Worrall acquits himself reasonably well, and those fond of cannon-splintered masts and grim-jawed captains won't be disappointed.
From the Publisher
“Inspired by the salty tales of seasoned maritime novelists C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian, [Worrall] delicately balances action and adventure with introspection. . . . Fans of seafaring military sagas will welcome [Sails on the Horizon].”

“Well-executed . . . demonstrating Worrall’s expertise in ship and sea warfare history . . . Readers will root for [Charles Edgemont]. . . . He handily defeats veteran seamen, takes enormous chances and is always rewarded.”
–Publishers Weekly

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St. Valentine's Day, 1797

Eight leagues southwest of Cape St. Vincent, Portugal

"The f-flagship's signaling again, sir. 'engage the enemy,' I think it says." The adolescent midshipman stood in an oversized jacket and flapping trousers at the top of the forward ladderway, squinting into the distance along the line of British warships, each laboring more or less one cable's length behind the other, pointed toward a gap between two large Spanish squadrons. He fairly danced with excitement.

"Thank you, Mr. Bowles. You may come down now," said Charles Edgemont, the second lieutenant aboard His Britannic Majesty's sixty-four-gun ship of the line Argonaut. At twenty-five, Edgemont's career in the navy had already spanned thirteen years, seven as a midshipman himself and six as a commission officer. His responsibility with the ship at quarters was the upper gundeck and its twenty-eight brightly painted black twelve-pounder cannon, neatly aligned on their carriages, fourteen to a side. The smallish and outdated Argonaut, captained by Sir Edward Wood, had taken her position as the last in the nearly mile-long fifteen-ship English line. Charles had watched as the fleet arranged itself into formation earlier in the morning and knew the order of battle. Leading the van was Culloden, seventy-four guns, under Captain Thomas Troubridge, and then the Blenheim and the Prince George, both grand ninety-eights. The flagship, Victory, with its hundred guns and Admiral Sir John Jervis, took station seventh in the line, near the center. The fleet sailed on an easy gray sea, through intermittent gray mist, under gray skies with a chill wind blowing steadily if moderately from the west. The Argonaut's crew had long since been ordered to quarters, the sails shortened, the topgallant masts struck down, and the courses brailed up in preparation for battle. Sand had been scattered on the wetted decks to improve footing and reduce the chance of fire. The guns were charged, double-shotted, primed, and run out, each of their six-man crews standing anxiously beside them.

"My G-God, there's a lot of 'em," Bowles reported, his voice breaking. "There must be near a score in the group awindward. T'other bunch alee ain't but about half that large." Billy Bowles was fourteen, a pimply youth with sallow skin and unruly hair, assigned to the gundeck. Charles had taken a liking to the boy but thought him too tender for a life in the navy. He was easily bullied by his messmates in the gun room and Charles had come across him bruised and reduced to tears more than once. "The Culloden's almost up to them," the boy bubbled on. "Can't be more than a mile and a half afar."

"Come down from that ladder and take your station," Charles said. "We'll be up to them soon enough."

"I see a four-decker, sir, and a bunch of three-deckers! Oh, my God."

Exasperated, Charles jumped to the ladderway and grabbed the apparently deaf midshipman by the back of his coat. "Look, the flagship's signaling again," the boy squealed. Charles looked down the line of ships until he saw the signal flags on Victory's halyards, repeated by the frigate Niger standing to windward: "Admiral intends to pass through enemy line." At the same moment he saw clouds of smoke erupt from the sides of the nearest Spanish warships, answered immediately by a broadside from Culloden. A moment later, the sounds of the great guns rumbled like distant thunder. "Get to your station," he said to the boy, pulling him down the ladderway. "You can watch through a gunport."

The roll of cannon fire slowly grew louder and more intense as the British line engaged the Spanish fleet in sequence and larger numbers from both sides became involved. It had been cold and foggy earlier in the morning and Charles had pulled on a woolen sweater under his uniform coat. Now he felt beads of clammy sweat under his arms. He began nervously drumming his fingers against his trouser leg. It came to him that, despite the span of time he had spent in the navy, he had never seen one of the great guns fired in anger. Through years of training and practice he knew well the mechanics of their operation, the bellowing roar so loud it could make the crew's ears bleed, and the recoil as the brutes leapt inward on screaming trucks with ample force to crush anyone in their way until jerked to an abrupt halt against their breechings. He had been told by others who had survived major fleet actions off Toulon or the Saints or on the Glorious First of June of the giddy jubilation that went with delivering a deafening broadside into an opponent and the horror of receiving the full weight of a well-delivered salvo. But by accident or fate or design, the Argonaut had not been present at those battles and Charles had not experienced it.

And now he would. He wondered how he would react. Some men, he had heard, rose in stature and determination as the world exploded around them in the din of battle. Others became paralyzed, unable to function, their only thought to protect themselves. The former were heroes, the latter cowards. It was as simple as that; everyone said so. He remembered--it had been hammered into him repeatedly at every level of his naval career--that, as an officer and a gentleman, it was his responsibility to set an example of coolness and courage before the men he commanded. He forced himself to stop rapping his fingers against his leg, deliberately rested one hand on his sword hilt, placed the other behind his back, and stood as apparently relaxed and indifferent to the approaching battle as he was able to manage.

"Silence, there," he snapped at a gun crew, some of whose members were clustered around a port, staring at the Spanish fleet and talking excitedly among themselves. "All of you, stand by your guns." Charles didn't really see anything wrong with the men looking through the gunports and discussing the oncoming battle, but Captain Wood would reprimand him sharply if he noticed any lack of discipline among the men under his charge. Charles had been reprimanded for apparent lack of smartness among his men before.

The devil of it was that he couldn't see what was happening. He caught occasional glimpses of Spanish warships through the forward gunports, including what he thought was the gigantic flagship, Santissima Trinidad, with 130 guns on four decks, the largest ship in the world. The now almost incessant cannon fire had grown decidedly louder, more immediately threatening, and a hint of spent gunpowder tainted the air. It was maddening not to be able to see anything of the progress of the battle, the positions of the fleets, or what damage had been done. He didn't want to climb the ladder to the upper deck; that would invite a rebuke from the captain for displaying undue curiosity and leaving his post. He also didn't want to gawk through a porthole like a common landsman.

"Mr. Bowles," he shouted.

"A-aye aye, sir," came a voice from close behind him.

"Mr. Bowles, get back up the forward ladderway and tell me what you see."

"Aye aye," the boy answered and cheerfully scurried away. After a moment he called down, "The Culloden's almost through their line, sir. The Victory and the Egmont are just coming into range. There's still a ways afore us."

"Do you see any damage?"

Bowles paused before answering. "Hard to say, sir. There's s-so much s-s-smoke. Seems most everybody's masts are still standing, though."

"What are the Spaniards doing?"

"The bigger group, the one to windward, is sort of sliding to the north like. If they can, I think they'll run with the wind back to Spain. Can't tell what t'other bunch are doing. Kind of circling about, tacking like."

"Thank you, Mr. Bowles. Let me know if anything important happens." Of their own accord, Charles's fingers resumed their nervous tamping against his thigh.

A cheer broke out on the upper deck and was quickly shouted down by cries of "Silence, there," from one officer or another.

"A dago's lost a mast, I think," came Bowles's voice. "Culloden has hoisted a signal . . . 'Acknowledge,' I think."

"Acknowledge what?" Charles asked.

"Oh, I see," Bowles said after a pause. "The admiral telegraphed for Culloden to tack and come back at the Spanish. Only Culloden acknowledged and came about afore the flagship signaled. We're all supposed to tack in s-s-succession when we get through the Spanish line, it says."

Charles longed to climb the ladder and see with his own eyes, but he contented himself with asking, "How long till we're in range?"

"Culloden's around, and Blenheim and Prince George. There goes Orion. About two more ships and we'll be up to the first. Right after Captain and Excellent. Wait!" Bowles squealed with excitement. "The Spaniards, the smaller group what was milling about, they've all come up to where our boys were turning. They've shot some yards off Colossus's foremast! Her head won't swing. Orion's backed and covering her. Oh, my God! Here comes Victory. Oh, such a broadside she just gave. . . . "

"Lieutenant Edgemont!" the first lieutenant's voice boomed down from the quarterdeck. "A Spanish warship's approaching to starboard. You may fire as your guns bear."

"Aye aye, sir," Charles called back. At last he would be tried in battle. "Starboard guns, aim true for the waterline," he yelled to the captains of his gun crews. "Prepare to fire on my command." His spine tingled with anticipation and he felt sweat on his palms.He was about to be in battle, a real battle. At the forewardmost cannon he knelt down and peered along the thick black barrel out the gunport. Almost immediately the Spanish seventy-four, with all sails set and gloriously ornamented with red-and-gold paint, sailed into view on the opposite tack. She had already been considerably knocked about; she had several parted stays, holes in her courses, and her hull was scarred. As soon as he was satisfied that the gun would hit her he jumped back and shouted, "Fire!" a little louder than strictly necessary. The gun captain yanked on his lanyard. Instantly the cannon erupted with a thunderous bang and leapt backward against its restraining tackle. Since they were firing to windward, the smoke billowed back into the gunport, momentarily obscuring any view. Charles knelt by the second gun, stepped back, and again barked, "Fire!" At the same time he heard and felt the larger twenty-four-pounder cannon on the lower gundeck explode in a single broadside, heeling the ship with their recoil. The two ships were passing a good deal faster than he had anticipated, so he yelled, "Fire as you bear!" The remainder of his starboard cannon crashed inward as one, the wind filling the gundeck with the acrid smoke of burnt gunpowder, shrouding everything. As the air cleared, Charles saw that the Spaniard was now well astern and beyond the traverse of his guns. She had suffered little if any additional damage that he could detect. He let out a deep breath and was about to congratulate himself on his coolness under fire when he realized that his target had not discharged a gun in her haste to escape.

"Worm and sponge out," he ordered in an almost disappointed tone. "Load with cartridge. Load with shot and wad your shot." He continued the sequence of cleaning and charging the cannon, mechanically ending with, "Put in tompkins. House your guns. Secure your guns."

Where was the rest of the Spanish fleet? Despite the risk to his dignity, Charles knelt by a starboard gunport and peered out. The larger body to windward sailed briskly northward out of cannon range. A glance to larboard told a similar story. The smaller squadron--he counted eight ships of the line--was tacking across the rear of the British line, where they could rejoin their sister ships. Charles searched in vain to starboard and port for the other British warships. They had to be more or less dead ahead or still in the process of turning. He tried to figure how the fleet, still tacking into the wind in succession, well beyond the rapidly departing Spanish, would be able to reform and engage before the enemy could unite to form a unified line of battle or, more probably, flee safely back to Cadiz.

He had almost decided that the enemy was bound to escape, that Jervis's fleet could not possibly come about in time, when he heard the shouted order "All hands to wear ship" from the quarterdeck and the sounds of pounding feet as sailors rushed to the shrouds and braces. He looked at the young midshipman still standing near the top of the ladderway. "What the hell's going on, Bowles?"

"We've gotten a s-s-s-signal from the flagship," the boy answered shakily, his complexion a deathly white. "Our number. J-just our number. We're to wear and engage the enemy more c-c-closely."

Charles's mouth worked for a moment but no sound came out, certainly not a coherent question he could ask Bowles that would explain what he wanted to know. He bounded for the ladderway to see for himself. It immediately became clear. The main body of the Spanish fleet was already well to the north and clear of the British line. Very soon they would turn to the east, and, with the wind behind them, collect the smaller squadron to make all haste for Spain, escaping virtually intact. The Argonaut had already turned and he saw that she was now on a course to cross just in front of the main body. He looked desperately around for the rest of the British warships. The Culloden, Blenheim, Prince George, and the rest of the British van that had already tacked were adding sail after sail in pursuit of the Spanish rear. Others, which had been toward the rear of the British line, Excellent and Captain among them, had worn after Argonaut in response to a second, general signal from Victory to "Engage the enemy more closely," which still flew. None of them would reach the Argonaut anywhere near in time to support her in what she alone was in position to do: Stop or at least delay a Spanish squadron of perhaps a dozen and a half heavy men of war.

"We're the only ones who can reach 'em, you see, sir," said Bowles's small voice beside him.

"Yes." Charles almost swallowed the word. His eyes grew wide as he studied the onrushing mass of two- and three-decked warships, with the immense Santissima Trinidad somewhere near the center. All of them were larger and more heavily armed than the Argonaut--many were much larger and much more heavily armed. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder and felt him shaking. "It will be all right if we just do our jobs," he said gently, well aware that there was no truth in it.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Born a Quaker into a military family, JAY WORRALL grew up in a number of countries around the world. During the Vietnam War he worked with refugees in the central highlands of that country, and afterward he taught English in Japan. Worrall has worked in developing innovative and humane prison programs, policies, and administration. He is married and the very proud father of five sons, and he currently lives and works in Pennsylvania.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished Mr. Worrall's first and I hope many more to come in this series. I just wish this series was as long as other authors on this topic ala Drinkwater, Hornblower, etc. I'm starting the second in the series and hoping a third is in the wings. The relationship between two opposite upbringings adds an interesting subline. This book had a very easy flow and has me wishing for more.
Anonymous 11 days ago
Good book to read! Hopefully the next book will flood up where this one ends and continues the saga of the Louisa and her crew
Anonymous 13 days ago
I think we have found a worthy successor to the acknowledged master and originator of the genre of historical sailing adventure stories, C. S. Forrester! I couldn't put this book down, as it was every bit as fun to read as any of the Horatio Hornby owe series of books. The breath of knowledge of life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars that the author displays is on the same level with that of Forrester's. I would dare anyone to read this and not be constantly mindful of the similarities to Forrester's style of writing .
Anonymous 26 days ago
An enjoyable read. The inclusion of the Quaker characters adds a new dimension to the picture of British life. I look forward to more from this author.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was written and proof the author can make historical fiction come to the lively excitement this history deserves. Outstanding work by the author and a must read to understand and gain insite into the British mindset that was active during our countries formation and why the quakers won over so many to their way of life in Colonial New England.