The HMS Baci sailed southward. New Year’s Eve in a howling gale was followed by weeks of high seas, blowing spindrifts and ever cooler temperatures as the Baci’s crew seized every chance to repair their foul and cold weather gear. Only Sir Edmund Roberts, the Sea Maiden questor, remained unprepared; no tar being available for waterproofing his tarpaulin coat, it thus remaining brilliant white in a sea of black jackets.
Regardless, he spent much time on deck, scanning the endless horizon for a Sea Maiden sighting. Gnarly Dan, the omnipresent and always poised to speak common sailors’ Sea Maiden expert lamented ceaselessly that the sea through which they were traveling should be thick with them, it being migration season (“southing” he called it, remarking: “Yer Sea Maidens should be southing in great pools*, sir, making for the ice islands where they’ll spend some time hobnobbing, laying about undisturbed by sailors and such.” It was obvious Gnarly Dan was imaging them, for he wet his lips, closed his eyes and continued: “Right lovely they be now, sir, and precious as gold dust; fatted up for the cold water (he smiled to himself) healthy like so’s a man can get a grip and still have plenty to lay into.”
Sir Edmund attempted to dissuade further elaboration by feigning absolute disinterest, but Gnarly Dan was in the arms of his fantasy and unstoppable. “We sailors has a hard lot, sir, not that we complain, ourselves being used to it, but every hard workin’ soul” – he emphasized the word and repeated himself – “every hard workin’ soul takes is comfort where he finds it. It’s like an unwrit law: the harder a man works the softer he likes his women. So your bigger Sea Maiden is most pop’lar with a sailor.”
Gnarly Dan collected himself and added: “Beggin’ yer pardon if yer missus is skinny sir. Plenty o’ sophisticated gents such as yerself likes ‘em all sharp edges and bones. But not yer sailor.”
Within a fortnight, on an uncharted island where they stopped to water the ship, Sir Edmund saw his eleventh Sea Maiden. She was robust as predicted and aloof and a sore temptation for Gnarly Dan to desert, but he knew her stay would be short lived and so maintained allegiance to the ship.
*As whales travel in pods and fish travel in schools.
Sir Edmund wrote in his journal:
Ah, most weighty discovery! A beautiful Sea Maiden in the bloom of migration. Sighted on an island we have named Succoro, she remained but briefly before returning to the sea. Studied the stars most diligently before departing, tracing odd figures and tangents into the sand. I now understand Gnarly Dan’s preference even though my heart still belongs to our trim captain, Constance Daphne (I do not discount her bounteous chest).
January 29 1833
Succoro Island, South Atlantic Sea
Corpulent, yet agile. Dark hair, green glistening scales, strong but padded upper body.