Hailed as groundbreaking by David Donachie, author of the John Pearce Naval Series and the Privateersman Mysteries—
"All sea stories should tell you something new, and The Bermuda Privateer meets that criterion in spades. Fast paced and covering an area new to me; I was enthralled by the author's encyclopedic knowledge of the Caribbean. There are battles and conspiracies galore, with engaging characters and thrilling actions."
Nicholas Fallon is captain of the schooner Sea Dog, a privateer that is fast, beautiful and deadly. Unbound by Royal Navy tradition, Fallon enjoys total independence in where he goes, how he fights, and whom he takes as crew. A woman—Beauty McFarland—is his second-in-command.
It's 1796, and Sea Dog's owner, Ezra Somers, employs Fallon to protect his Caribbean salt trade from French privateers and pirates. Wicked Jak Clayton is especially ruthless. When the two meet just off the Bahamas, even Fallon's cunning can't overcome their mismatch in firepower and desertion by a cowardly ally.
Later, in Bermuda, Fallon is enlisted by the Royal Navy to intercept a Spanish flotilla carrying gold and silver to France. But a massive hurricane halts the British attack on the Spanish transports, driving several ships, including Fallon's, onto the Florida shore. Held by Spanish soldiers, Fallon and the surviving crew escape by turning enemies into friends. Once free, only one mission remains. Wicked Jak Clayton must die!
The Bermuda Privateer is an action-filled sea story with layered storylines and a modern storyteller's voice.
About the Author
William Westbrook began his career as an advertising copywriter and went on to become president and creative director of the advertising agency Fallon, producing award-winning campaigns for BMW, United Airlines, Miller Lite and many other clients. A natural storyteller, he’s also co-written a photography book and contributed to sailing magazines, all the while cruising extensively throughout the Chesapeake Bay and the Caribbean. He is the author of the Nicholas Fallon Seas novels. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Vigo, Spain: dawn expected.
A dark, warm wind found the narrow alleys, blowing the dry leaves into swirls. They blew along the walkways and scratched in the doorways. Otherwise, there was no sound.
A lone figure moved through the shadows, silent as a secret. Beneath the cloak a man, or perhaps a woman, with a light yet purposeful step. Thirty paces to a courtyard, turn right. Sally the edges of the alley, hesitate, and breathe. Now a small cut to the left, along cobblestones placed by the Romans or even the Saracens and then, at last a pause, at a door with the faintest light showing under.
The figure withdrew a packet from the cloak, held it an instant to kiss its seal, and slipped it under the door.
A dog barked somewhere. A light shone from a courtyard window in response. But the figure had disappeared.
The sentry at his door shifted weight, and instantly Nicholas Fallon's eyes opened. He lay in his cot, listening. The ship's low noises were nothing out of the ordinary, he decided. He also knew instinctively it was deep in the middle watch, two hours before first light. The small cabin was surprisingly cold, and he squirmed like a child down into the covers of his swinging cot. So, he wondered, where the hell is summer?
He closed his eyes, but sleep had quit him. His mind turned to the ship. She was close hauled on larboard, some one hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, moving northeast to slowly close the coast. He judged her speed by the gurgle of water rushing past the stern: twelve knots.
His ship was fast, as fast as anything on the water for her length. The Somers Salt Company had built the pretty schooner at St. George's shipyard on the eastern end of Bermuda. For some time, pirates and French privateers had overwhelmed the trade in salt to America, and Ezra Somers, owner of the company and Fallon's employer, decided to build a ship to fight back. Sea Dog was 100 feet on deck and more than 200 tons, deep-hulled and stiff, with scantlings to handle twelve 9-pounders, plus two 18-pound carronades in the bows of the ship. She was fore-and-aft rigged, with two raked masts — an idea that originated with the Dutch bezaan jachts and was incorporated on fast Bermuda sloops. She was built with the most-available wood on the island: Bermuda cedar. It made her virtually rot-proof, not to mention aromatic below decks.
Sea Dog was far from home. Fallon had chased a mysterious sail for five days to the northeast before losing the ship in fog. He had pushed the men hard, spreading every inch of sail day and night, but the mysterious ship was close to Sea Dog's equal for speed in light airs. He had figured she would head for France, yet he had continued to follow in the hopes of sighting her again. But, nothing. Perhaps it was a folly to chase a prize so far away from home. Some would say his pride had gotten the best of him. He had sailed far, too far, and had been found wanting. As Ezra Somers often said: Some days you're a rooster, some days a feather duster.
Somers was feisty and profane and gout-ridden. And wealthy from salt. His salt was much in demand to preserve food, and his ships ran regularly between the salinas, or salt pans, of the Turks Islands, and the eastern ports of the United States. The ships dropped their cargo of salt, picked up foodstuffs and cotton, timber or tools, and returned to Bermuda, thence down to Grand Turk. Or they had. Three Somers cargo ships had been taken in the past year; the last had fought bravely with the few guns in the ship but was captured off the Exumas. The captain, as well as the crew who were still alive, were put ashore on Watling Island, an arid rock without food or water. They were rescued finally, weak and dehydrated and starving, but alive.
Ezra Somers had connived a letter of marque from the British Admiralty for Sea Dog to "raid, plunder, and otherwise disrupt and destroy Great Britain's enemies from Ushant to the Caribbean." Well, Britain's enemies were always in question, being prone to change and change again over the past fifty years. Only France had been relatively constant. The French Navy wasn't so much a problem; they were effectively bottled up by blockade for much of the time. The problem was pirates and French privateers and their damnably cunning captains who were too good at their jobs. They attacked unguarded Indiamen or British sloops — or even brigs — with insolence.
They were Fallon's quarry now. He was determined to be good at his job, as well.
He rose, involuntarily shivering, and pulled the blanket up around his shoulders as he walked to the small stern windows. Beneath him the sea, yards away, breathing slowly. He balanced easily by now against the roll of the ship, eleven months into this new commission. His eyes strained to see out the windows toward — what? A white wake stretched to the stars.
He decided he would shave. The mirror saw a deeply tanned face, with unruly black hair hanging over green eyes. In a certain light he could perhaps be called handsome. He was lean, with a chest and shoulders bigger than his body deserved.
His father had given him a wry smile, but his mother had added a penchant for melancholy to his eyes. He thought of her briefly, dark and lovely and troubled by demons. She had spent her whole life waiting for bad news. One day it came, and when the doctor said she would die, she did.
It was unexplainable to an eight-year-old boy. One moment he had a mother, alive and vibrant, and the next he stared at her body, cold and grim. He would remember the ticking of the hall clock outside her bedroom door the rest of his life.
His father went to work that day, still. Well, it had seemed like the only thing to do. The White Horse was the oldest pub still leaning in St. George, as his father liked to say, and had never closed a day through two generations of Fallon ownership. Townspeople came by to pay their respects. She was so young, they said.
Young Nicholas had lain on his bed at night and written her poems and letters. He agonized over each word. Finished, they accumulated in a drawer by her bed. His days were spent in listless wandering; in the mornings he walked the island and scared up shorebirds, pausing at certain times to look out to the horizon. Nothing out there looked changed; behind him, everything was different.
In time, he retreated to the White Horse, standing on a stool behind the bar serving out drinks and eavesdropping on conversations. Bermuda was a stop for merchantmen and Royal Navy alike, for traders and immigrants, for castaways of the world — lost souls like he was, running away or hiding — or for adventurers, explorers, and inventors of stories. You could learn a lot about the world from behind the bar. In consequence, he could talk to anybody about anything and learned to speak and read a bit of several languages in the bargain.
Shaking off the past, Fallon finished shaving, called for coffee, and dressed in a warm coat before ascending the companionway steps.
"Beauty! Here you are! Wherever in the ship have you been?" Fallon called, appearing suddenly in the gloom, bringing his particular penchant for wryness to the morning and looking at his first mate with mock-curious eyes.
Beauty McFarland was used to curious eyes. She was a she, first. A short, roundish she with callused hands and strong arms. A woman who possessed intelligence and wit and, owing to a foot infection that had turned gangrenous when she was eighteen, a peg leg. A woman not to be trifled with. Men had tried and had suffered in consequence. Women didn't bother.
"I've been doing my job, Nico," she said. "And you should be doing yours, which is tending to the cut on your chin. What's on your mind today, Your Majesty?"
"Jesus, if this was a man-o-war you'd be flogged," Fallon said, feigning offense at her insolence and enjoying the informality that he permitted and even encouraged aboard.
"True enough," Beauty replied, "but if this was a man-o-war, I wouldn't be second-in-command and you wouldn't be first, and this bunch of misfits and buggers wouldn't be a crew."
Well, she had a point. It was a ship of misfits. Though Sea Dog had a letter of marque as a British privateer, she carried the crew of her captain's choice and loosely followed the relaxed practices of British merchantmen at sea. There were pirates and farmers on board, and carpenters and shopkeepers and a few convicts thrown into the mix. Beauty was the only woman, and she was the most capable of all the hands. The ship's normal complement was 55 crew but, being a privateer, she carried more than that so she could man her prizes.
Fallon had known Beauty — Beatrice McFarland — since they were children racing skiffs on St. George's Harbor. She had usually beaten him; actually, she had beaten everyone. She had the instincts of a born sailor. Beneath her wind-beaten face was a keen mind that knew when to tack. For someone whose Scottish ancestors had fought Cromwell, courage went without saying. Beauty as second-in-command had been an easy choice for Fallon, if unorthodox. As for the rest of the crew, he knew them all from the island. Knew them to be excellent sailors, no matter their profession. Over a third of Bermuda's men were always afloat, somewhere. Some of his crew sought a second chance on Sea Dog to put their lives right. Some a third. All needed prize money.
The Somers Company was generous in the matter of prizes. Because the company controlled most of the salt trade from the Turks Islands, it was in its best interests to shut down enemy raids. Every privateer or pirate that was captured was a double win. First, the ships and cargoes were sold at auction or to the Royal Navy, with the proceeds divided half to the company, half to the captain and crew. Second, the taking of a pirate meant one less fox to prey on the chickens.
"I'd like the men drilled at the guns today, Beauty. Put the watch on them, please," said Fallon.
"The watch it is!" replied Beauty, as her captain and best friend turned for his morning exercise along the windward side of the ship.
The sea's rollers were lying down after a show of force in yesterday's storm. The wind had sent small messenger waves ahead to warn them, and when the rain and truly fierce wind had set upon them they had been ready. Nothing had been carried away and there were no injuries, and now the morning watch had already been called and was busy with the scraping and holystoning of the deck. Sea Dog was coming alive in all respects with the breeze filling in from the southwest, the ropes growing taut, and the prospect of the sun's warmth turning to reality.
Another day when anything was possible. Money could come sailing by, Fallon thought. A prize would make the crew happy and make Fallon feel like less of a fool. It would make Ezra Somers very happy. It might even make Somers's rebellious daughter, Elinore, happy. Or not.
Nathaniel Becker, the nominal sailing master and an old friend, approached Fallon with the morning's observations once the captain was through with his exercise. Becker had a deeply lined face, with white hair and perpetually worried eyes.
"I believe I see the loom of Spain, Nico," he said. "And I believe — only believe mind — that the wind should moderate by noon."
"Thank you, Nat," replied Fallon, having received confirmation of his own calculations, though he would not have dared for all the world to point it out to the sailing master. "And how are the youngsters coming with their sightings? Is Tom Pleasant having more success?"
Tom Pleasant was a particularly bright spot among the young boys, being generally liked for his personality and wicked humor, but bedeviled by mathematics. Fallon worried he would never understand geometry, and a sailing ship required geometry.
"Well enough, Nico," said Becker. "Although the mysteries of the heavens have yet to reveal themselves completely. Tom Pleasant, in particular, seems mystified by the mysteries."
Fallon grinned. It was never "Tom." Or "Mr. Pleasant." But "Tom Pleasant" in its entirety. There must be something oddly secure in having your whole name to present you, leaving nothing out, Fallon thought. Here I am and kiss my hand.
He mused on that as he headed below decks for breakfast, light of step, and unusually happy. Indeed, it was a day when anything was possible.
The abbey burned candles relentlessly, in every passageway, day and evening. The monks dutifully made the candles from the beeswax they collected from the hives in the fields; tallow was more ordinary for candles, of course, but the beeswax was readily available and the candles burned longer.
A hooded monk walked deliberately up the steps to the tower, following the dim pools of light round and round until, breathless, he emerged into a circular room, unfurnished except for a writing desk and chair. He sat noiselessly at the desk and pulled the sealed envelope from his sleeve. It was lighter than usual, though that bore little on its importance.
A shaft of sunlight found the center of the room but provided scant warmth, certainly not enough to warm the stone floor. The monk hesitated with the weight of his duty. Nothing easy under God, he said to himself. But surely this was not God's business. And then he ripped open the envelope.
When he had read the instructions through, he read them again. They were simple enough, but to follow them would implicate him in the grand schemes of the war that seemed to engulf most of the known world. He would be a minor figure, but a figure just the same.
The room had eight windows, each with a candle; half looked to the sea and half to the village of Vigo to the east. Tonight he would blow out three of the candles in the windows, leaving only one visible from the sea. He placed the envelope and its contents to the flame of one and watched it burn, Spain's golden seal the last to crackle and disappear.
He'd grown up in rooms with mice.
The Fallon family lived over the pub and, before they got the cat, mice were a plentiful diversion for a curious mind. Young Nicholas became quite good at catching them and examining them with a penknife. He soon learned a good deal about organs and muscles, and he enjoyed showing off his success in dissection to the screams of little Elinore Somers, who lived nearby and often walked past his house, singing. She seemed unappreciative and not much interested in science.
When he was older, Fallon spent his idle time on the sea. He would patch and caulk his small skiff in a standoff with rotting wood and time, and sail close inshore in case he sank. Fallon and Beauty would often sail together, taking turns at the tiller and sail handling.
Once, caught on a lee shore in an overtaking storm, they'd foundered and nearly drowned. Beauty had urged him to leave her and swim in, but he would not. They had swum until they were too exhausted to raise their arms, then held hands and floated with their faces turned to the jagged sky. Fallon made Beauty talk to him, told her stories, and even had her sing with him until the thunder stopped. Sometime just after dark, the wind and waves pushed them into land. Their bottoms bumped the bottom, and they yelled for joy together. Still holding onto each other, they stumbled ashore and picked their way along the small hills and shrubs toward home.
They were laughing uncontrollably when they saw the loom of St. George Town. They'd been walking so long they were dry.
"Deck there!" roared the lookout. "Two points to starboard! A sloop, and she's French!"
Fallon turned his face to the right as he reached for the telescope from Becker. It took him but a moment to find the ship, definitely French. Definitely the enemy of Great Britain. She had seen Sea Dog, as well, and was just raising more sail.
"Beauty! Call all hands, all hands!" Fallon ordered. He quickly considered wind and tide and asked Becker to lay down a course to intercept the sloop. He was calm, for there was no reason to think the French ship could escape. Sea Dog had the weather gauge.
Sea Dog made her gradual turn to starboard as her big sails popped out in the wind and began to draw. "Trapped against a lee shore, by God," observed Beauty. "Damned bad spot to be."
"No question," responded Fallon. "Bad luck for her. Wonder why so far inshore?"
"Something's odd," replied Beauty, never taking her eyes off the Frenchman. "But we'll know soon enough."
Excerpted from "The Bermuda Privateer"
Copyright © 2017 William Westbrook.
Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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